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A dog with mouth open and tongue sticking out, water dripping off its face, and close-up of eye and nose.
Pet Blog

Dental Disease In Dogs

This post is written by our holistic veterinarian at "I and love and you", Dr. Angie Krause, DVM, CVA, CCRT.

Dental disease is a common and painful condition that many dogs suffer silently. Dogs with dental disease can be in pain for months and years with conditions that would cause humans to call the dentist after only hours. It’s estimated that 80% of dogs will have dental disease by the time they are two years old. As a pet parent, you can advocate for your dog, and help to prevent and treat painful dental disease in its early (less painful) stages. 

Here is my 5 step plan that you can implement right away, to ensure your dog has a pain-free and healthy mouth!

Step 1: Identify the signs

It’s important to stress that most dogs won’t complain or show signs of painful dental disease. Here are a few warning signs:

  • Bad breath
  • Tartar (brown/white buildup on teeth)
  • Gingivitis (red line along gums)
  • Avoiding crunching food/toys/bones
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • No signs making steps 3-5 critical!

Step 2: Homecare

Brushing your dog’s teeth can go a long way to help prevent dental disease. Check out my brushing tips here. Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth every day. It takes 48 hours for tartar bonds to form. If you can’t brush every day, brush when you can! If your pup won’t let you brush their teeth, or it’s hard to find time, don’t stress. However, not brushing daily will make steps 3-5  imperative. 

Step 3: Oral exams at home

Get to know your dog’s mouth. Look for redness and swelling along the gum line, lumps, and bumps, as well as damaged teeth. Ask your veterinarian to show you which teeth are commonly fractured. Keep an eye out for discolored teeth. This is also a good time to get a whiff of your dog’s breath. If you find something concerning, or their breath is smelly, make an appointment with, or send a picture to, your veterinarian. 

Step 4: Oral exams with your veterinarian

This should be done every 6 months, or more often if your pup already has dental disease. This allows a professional to assess the severity of your dog’s tartar, gingivitis, and damaged teeth. Your veterinarian is only able to assess a portion of your dog’s mouth during an awake exam. For this reason, step 5 is very important. 

Step 5: Dental cleaning and x-rays under anesthesia 

When your dog is under very light sedation, your veterinarian can take x-rays and look at all tooth structures that aren’t visible during an awake examination. This is the step that ensures your dog is not suffering in silence. A tooth can look completely healthy but have a painful disease under the gum line. 

Many pup parents are concerned that anesthesia might be unsafe for their dog on a regular basis. When good protocols are in place, anesthesia is generally very safe and regular cleanings allow for this procedure to be much shorter from start to finish (limiting your dog’s time under anesthesia). 

Here are a few questions you can ask your veterinarian to ensure that standard anesthetic protocols are followed:

  • “Will you be doing lab work before anesthesia?” Your veterinarian should be running a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistries before anesthesia.
  • “Will there be a dedicated nurse to monitor my dog during anesthesia and while recovering?” The answer should be yes! Extra points if there are two!
  • “Will the veterinarian be using a local anesthetic (nerve block) before doing any extractions?” This allows less general anesthesia and makes the procedure safer.
  • “Will full mouth dental x-rays be performed?” The answer should be yes! 

Keeping your dog’s mouth healthy and happy is an important aspect of maintaining their overall health. Do your best and if you fall off the dental care bandwagon, it’s never too late to get back on!

Sending you love!

Dr. Angie