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Dentistry for Dogs

You wouldn’t go years between dental exams. Should your dog?
By
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM

You wouldn’t go years between dental exams and teeth cleanings. Should your dog?

The idea of regular dental care for our pets is new to most of us. But once you know your dog (and cat) can suffer from the same oral health problems you do -- plaque, gum disease, tooth loss, and more -- the idea of regular exams starts to make sense.

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What kind of professional dental care does your dog need? How often? And what care should you do at home? WebMD asked veterinary dentists these and other questions. Here are their tips on cleaning your dog’s teeth, daily dental care, and how to keep your pet's smile bright.

Why Do Dogs Need Dental Care?

Dogs need dental care for the same reasons we do. "The exact process that results in periodontal disease in humans affects our pets," says Brett Beckman, DVM, FAVD, DAVDC, DAAPM, a veterinary dentist practicing in Florida and Georgia.

The process is simple but merciless: Plaque, which is made of saliva, sloughed mouth cells, food, and other things, forms on teeth just minutes after eating. If left untreated, the plaque builds up, leading to gum inflammation that can then cause tissue decay. The inflammation then progresses deep enough to destroy bone, which finally leads to tooth loss, the ultimate end of periodontal disease.

Unfortunately, periodontal disease (also called gum disease), occurs five times as often in pets as it does in people. As a matter of fact, more than 80% of dogs over 3 years old have periodontal disease. Yet, while gum disease is usually the biggest dental problem a dog faces, it's not the only one. Some dogs, especially larger breeds, are also prone to broken or fractured teeth.

All of this can add up to a mouth in great pain. But a dog owner almost never notices the chronic pain because our pets have evolved to hide it. Their animal instincts urge them never to show a sign of weakness. Your dog's mouth could have bleeding gums or abscessed teeth and your dog may still eat just fine. That's why it's vital you do your part for your pooch's oral health.

What Regular Dental Care Does Your Dog Need?

Pets need a lot of the same regular dental care that people do, with one addition. They need:

  • Daily brushings
  • Quality food
  • Regular oral X-rays, exams, and cleanings
  • Safe teeth-cleaning chew toys or treats

The main reason pets get gum disease so often is because most don't have their teeth brushed daily. Yet brushing your dog's teeth daily is the best way to prevent the buildup and progression of plaque.

Surprisingly, when approached with patience and gentleness, most dogs (and cats), even older ones, can be persuaded to allow regular brushings. Yet statistics show that less than 1% of pet owners commit to brushing their pet’s teeth regularly.

That's why "the best alternative is less labor-intensive home care," says Beckman, "combined with cleaning periodically at a veterinary hospital."

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