Recently, I’ve noticed that one of my dogs, Cami, has particularly stinky breath. I took her into the vet for an exam and rabies shot the other day, and he confirmed what I suspected. Cami’s breath is smells bad, not just because she’s a dog, but also because it’s time for a teeth cleaning.
Most people don’t think about their dog’s dental health, but it’s important. Although dogs and cats don’t often get cavities, the plaque and tartar on their teeth can cause gingivitis and periodontal disease. Without treatment the teeth can decay and eventually fall out. Veterinarians see many a toothless dog whose owners ignored doggie dental care.
Healthy teeth aren’t just a cosmetic nicety. Another less obvious side effect comes from the bacteria that cause the decay. These bacteria can actually travel through the dog’s bloodstream and damage major organs. Dogs with bad teeth can become very sick.
When it comes to dental care, prevention is important. Just as you go to the dentist regularly (we hope), you should take your dog in for regular dental check ups at the veterinarian. Almost any time you take your dog into the vet, you’ve probably noticed the vet checks the dog’s teeth. He’s looking for yellowy crusty tartar and plaque on the teeth and red along the gum line that indicates gingivitis.
If your vet finds problems, he or she will let you know that it’s time for a cleaning. Called a dental, prophy, or prophylaxis, this procedure is a thorough cleaning and polishing of your dog’s teeth. The dog needs to be anesthetized for the procedure, although many vets do let the dog go home the same day.
Afterward, the veterinarian may recommend home tooth brushing. I confess that personally even though I floss my own teeth every night, I’ve had zero success with brushing my dogs’ teeth. I accept my limitations and realize that it means I have to take the canine team in for teeth cleanings more frequently than if I regularly brushed their teeth myself.
If brushing the dog’s teeth isn’t working out, your vet may recommend specially formulated foods that help reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Various treats and chew toys also may help. Generally, large dogs who eat dry food and engage in lots of recreational chewing are less susceptible to periodontal disease than small dogs. Small breeds like Pomeranians and Pekingese are particularly at risk for tooth problems because their teeth are crowded more tightly and prone to more plaque buildup.
If you take your dog in for yearly exams, don’t be surprised if you hear what I did. "Look at those teeth! Yuck. It’s time for a cleaning!" Since we want Cami to be around for a long time, she’ll be headed back to the vet soon for some important dental care.