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Dental diseases in dogs can include a wide range of issues, from gingivitis to broken teeth. It’s important to diagnose and treat dental issues as soon as they are noticed to prevent pain, infection, and tooth loss.
Our pets don’t always communicate their pain, but they can show signs like not wanting to chew, preferring softer foods, dropping food, or pawing at their mouth. Research has shown that more advanced periodontal disease can be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease and systemic inflammation. It is important to work with your veterinarian to ensure that your dog has a healthy mouth.
The Most Common Dental Issues in Dogs
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, the first stage of periodontal disease, and it can be reversed with treatment. It is one of the most common disorders found during wellness exams and is more common as a dog ages. Mild gingivitis can be improved at home with frequent toothbrushing. More moderate to severe gingivitis requires a dental cleaning to scale and polish the teeth.
Periodontal disease is disease of the tissues surrounding the teeth, including the gums, bone, periodontal ligament (that connects tooth root to bone), and cementum (a hard outer covering of the tooth root). The disease starts with gingivitis and then progresses to bone loss around the tooth. Advanced bone loss is what makes teeth loose. Treatment of periodontal disease depends on severity, and ranges from cleaning above and below the gum line, deep root cleanings, bone graft placement around the roots, and tooth extraction. It is extremely common in dogs. Periodontal disease is preventable with routine cleanings and at-home brushing throughout your dog’s life.
Tartar and Plaque Buildup
The light fuzz you feel on your own teeth in the morning before you brush is called plaque. This is a combination of oral bacteria and proteins from saliva that adhere to the teeth, and it begins to form just minutes after brushing. Plaque is the instigator for gingivitis, so we are taught at a young age to brush our teeth twice a day to remove it. This is why brushing our dog’s teeth is important too! Tartar, which is mineralized plaque, can only be removed through professional veterinarian scaling and polishing, which requires anesthesia for pets.
Tooth fractures are included in the category of endodontic disease, which is a disease of the pulp of the tooth. The pulp is the inner part of the tooth and includes vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. When a tooth breaks and bacteria enters the pulp, the tooth dies. This can be painful while the nerve is exposed and the tooth is dying. Tooth fractures are treated by extracting the tooth or through a root canal. Extracting the tooth gets rid of a source of inflammation and infection, and a root canal removes the dead pulp and fills the remaining space with a biocompatible substance. Heavy chewing on hard objects like antlers, rocks, crates, hard bones, or toys can fracture teeth.
A malocclusion is an abnormal fit between the teeth and jaw . Some dogs have malocclusions that lead to the teeth hitting other teeth, the palate, or the lips. These problems can arise from the jaws being too long or too short, or if a tooth is in an abnormal position. Malocclusions are painful, and require treatment to either adjust the tooth position with orthodontics or simply extract the tooth so dogs can have a comfortable and functional mouth.
Treatment of Dental Issues in Dogs
The best treatment plan for dental disease is personalized to each dog, the type of disease, severity of disease, and treatment goals. For dogs with gingivitis or early periodontal disease, the teeth can be treated through scaling and polishing. Small dogs should have their first cleaning by age 2 and large dogs by the age of 3. A cleaning under anesthesia combined with an oral exam and dental x-ray, is the best way to fully evaluate the mouth and treat dental disease.
Some conditions, such as advanced periodontal disease with severe bone loss around the tooth, are best treated with tooth extraction. Extracting these diseased or loose teeth leads to a healthier and more functional mouth, since the pain and inflammation is eliminated. Dogs can eat kibble again and play with chew toys after a short healing period, and their other teeth typically don’t shift following extractions.
Some fractured teeth can be treated through root canals to save the remaining tooth structure. The best tooth candidates for root canals include canine teeth or other large, important teeth in medium- to large-breed dogs. Otherwise, extraction of fractured teeth is ideal to fully remove the dead tooth.
Malocclusion treatment options include moving teeth through orthodontics, extracting teeth, or shortening teeth. Teeth can be moved via applying pressure with orthodontic buttons and elastics, or appliances such as an incline plane or coronal extenders. All puppies and young dogs must be evaluated for malocclusions while they are growing, to avoid mouth pain and other issues associated with malocclusions such as an oronasal fistula (a hole between the mouth and nose), dead teeth, or general tooth wear. Board-certified veterinary dentists can provide occlusion treatment options specific for each pup, so they can have a pain-free mouth for many years.
Prevention of Dental Issues in Dogs
Periodontal disease is the most common disease of dogs over the age of 3, but it is preventable! Introducing toothbrushing at a young age can make it a fun part of your dog’s daily routine. Start by having your dog lick dog-safe toothpaste off the brush, then slowly build up to brushing the teeth using a dog-safe toothbrush. Brushing the outsides of the teeth with three back and forth strokes is effective. After a successful toothbrushing, be sure to reward your pet with a special treat.
Always discuss your pet’s oral health with your veterinarian during yearly wellness exams. By starting dental cleanings and exams at a young age, gingivitis can be kept in the reversible stage and bone loss that comes with more advanced periodontal disease can be prevented. An investment in cleanings under anesthesia early in your dog’s life prevents discomfort and the need for invasive and aggressive treatment later. Younger animals tend to recover from anesthesia more quickly, and it is safer in pets with no heart, kidney, or liver disease.
In addition to daily or every-other-day toothbrushing, products like dental diets, chews, and water additives can also help reduce plaque and tartar, helping to bind bacteria byproducts that can damage the gums. The Veterinary Oral Health Council provides a veterinary dentist-approved list of these home care products. By working with your veterinarian and starting a dental routine at a young age, you can ensure that your pup has a healthy mouth for many years to come.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Natali_Mis
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