Dog dentists specialize in dog dental care. But do dogs need trips to the dentist? And is dental care really necessary for a healthy, well fed dog?
Most Labs have a perfect set of gleaming white adult teeth by around seven months of age.
We all want our Labradors to keep their new grown up teeth perfect for the longest time. Not to mention their sweet smelling puppy breath.
Many of us, especially from the older generations, assume that dog’s teeth take care of themselves.
But modern vets are increasingly recommending that people actively maintain their dogs’ teeth. And are concerned about rising rates of tooth decay and gum disease in our pets
A major pet food manufacturer states on its website that 4 out of every 5 dogs have gum disease.
And according to a study of almost 50,000 household pets, periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in cats and dogs nowadays.
That doesn’t sound too good, but what exactly is periodontal disease, and what does it mean for your dog?
Canine periodontal disease
Periodontal means literally ‘around the tooth’. And periodontal disease is a disease of the tissues that surround and support your dog’s teeth.
This starts as gingivitus, or inflamed gums. This is a condition most of us are more familiar with in humans.
As the disease spreads from the gums to even more important tissue, serious problems can emerge.
What kinds of problems does a dog dentist see?
Periodontal disease is due to diet and other factors. It may progress gradually at first. But if the tissues around a tooth are damaged severely, the tooth will lose its support and eventually fall out.
Most dogs have their periodontal teeth diagnosed before it gets to this stages as the vet will examine your dog’s mouth at their annual check up.
Dog dentists also see teeth that have been damaged suddenly, as a result of trauma.
Why do dogs’ teeth break?
It is not unusual for dogs to visit their vet with a broken tooth. Most vets regularly see dogs with some painful fractured teeth.
Typically, a dog breaks a tooth by chewing on a very hard item. This is often as a direct result of access to large bones and deer antler. So, you do need to consider whether or not you wish to take a gamble on this.
It is a shame, because they give dogs a lot of pleasure, but there is little doubt that weight bearing bones of larger mammals can break dog’s teeth, as can antlers, which are particularly hard.
Some dogs can chew these items without any problems. It depends partly on how hard the dog bites down. You won’t know if your dog is particularly at risk until he or she breaks a tooth
Decay and bad dog teeth
Dental caries, or decay, is less common in dogs than in people. This is likely due to humans love of sugar.
With this being said, it can crop up in dogs. Especially in dogs where teeth are crowded very closely together, or where there is a diet high in carbohydrates.
Dogs that have been bred for flat faces often face this crowding issue. And dogs that are fed sweet or sugary products may suffer from tooth decay.
Dental carries and cavities can be successfully treated in dogs, but again, this will make a significant dent in your wallet
When should I see a dog dentist?
Dental issues get worse if left untreated, so dog dental care treatment is best carried out promptly. If you suspect your dog has fractured a tooth, or has gum disease or a cavity, it’s worth getting checked out.
Dogs can be quite good at hiding pain, and the first sign you may notice is a dog that is reluctant to eat his dinner.
Take your dog along to your regular vet as the first port of call. Either your vet will offer a program of treatment.
Or they may refer you to a veterinary dentist who is a specialist in dog dental care.
So how does dog dentistry work?
Dental treatment for dogs
Treating any dental disease in dogs is tricky.
This is because you cannot expect your labrador, or any other dog, to sit in the dentist’s chair and keep his mouth open, while he is examined and treated.
For this reason, dental examinations and treatment for dogs usually have to be carried out under a general anesthetic.
This is not the best news for dogs as there are risks involved in anesthetising your pet.
And it is bad news for your wallet because general anesthetics are expensive. The whole procedure becomes much more complicated than a human dental procedure.
Dog tooth extraction cost are significant. Prevention is the best way to go.
Let’s look at how to prevent some of those problems and save your dollars for a nice new dog bed or some great toys.
Dog dental cleaning
The damage that results from periodontal disease is caused by bacteria that live in the plaque in your dog’s mouth.
And plaque builds up when the dog’s teeth are not sufficiently abraded or rubbed with something coarse.
A build up of plaque can be avoided
- by a diet high in abrasive material
- and by regular toothbrushing.
Once the build up is established, it may require the attention of a vet to remove it all. Usually under a general anesthetic.
Abrasive material can be anything from hard kibble to actual bones. There are also some dental chews that have been shown to reduce plaque.
But you can also help to make your Lab even less likely to get dental caries by feeding him an appropriate diet.
This is important because even dogs with no breed-disposition to tooth decay can be at risk if fed improperly.
Dog dental care through diet
Dogs are able to thrive on a diet that contains very little carbohydrate. And choosing dog foods that are lower in carbs may help to protect your dog’s teeth.
Dogs that eat a raw diet of the ‘prey model’ type are consuming bones on a daily basis.
It’s likely that raw feeding offers protection against tooth decay both by preventing a build up of plaque. And by eliminating sugars and starches.
However, for many people, feeding a raw diet is not an option they are able or willing to take. And the majority of dogs consume kibble on a daily basis.
If this includes your dog, then one of the best choices you can make for their teeth, is to clean them on a daily basis, just like you do with your own.
So let’s take a look at what is involved.
Cleaning your dog’s teeth – what’s involved
Nowadays, vets recommend all dogs have their teeth cleaned daily.
But cleaning a dog’s teeth isn’t always easy.
Some dogs are completely against having anything forced into their mouths. And the last thing you need is to get involved in a wrestling match with your dog each day.
Let’s look at how to brush a dog’s teeth without tears (yours or the dog’s)!
How to brush dogs teeth
The earlier you start with tooth cleaning, the easier it will be. But it is never too late to begin.
The secret is to start slowly. Introduce the dog to the concept of having something alien in his mouth for just a few seconds.
Build up gradually. Start with just the easily accessible teeth at the front of the mouth.
Aim to be able to reach all your dog’s teeth after a couple of weeks of daily practice.
Buy a dog toothbrush and some dog toothpaste, let the dog have a lick of the toothpaste from your finger before diving in to his mouth.
You can also buy brushes that slips over the end of your finger, and some people find these easier to use.
Dog toothpastes are edible and flavored. This is because dogs always end up swallowing their toothpaste.
For this reason it’s never safe to use human toothpaste on your dog. The fluoride in these products could cause serious harm is repeatedly swallowed. Homemade toothpastes containing baking soda are also not ideal.
The video below, from the Dog’s Trust illustrates how to clean your dog’s teeth using the Finger Toothbrush method.
Dog dental care summary
A tooth fracture is something many dogs will face at some point in their life.
And many dogs will suffer from some degree of tooth decay or gum disease, especially as they age.
That doesn’t mean that these things are unavoidable, and a significant number of dogs do make it to old age with all their teeth in great condition
You can reduce the risk of dog dental problems by avoiding very hard bones and antlers, feeding your dog a low carbohydrate diet, avoiding sweet treats, and by cleaning their teeth on a daily basis.
Take good care of your dog’s teeth and he should keep a full set right into old age. Happy brushing!
If you’ve never cleaned your dog’s teeth before and you decide to have a go – let us know how you get on!
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References and further reading
- Lund E et al 1999. Health status and population characteristics of dogs and cats examined at private veterinary practices in the United States. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association.
- Beths T et al Evaluation and optimization of a target-controlled infusion system for administering propofol to dogs as part of a total intravenous anesthetic technique during dental surgery. Vet Record 2001
- Hale F 1998 Dental Caries of the dog. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry
- Brodbelt C et al 2008. The risk of death: the Confidential Enquiry into Perioperative Small Animal Fatalities Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia
- Valkenburgh, B 1988. Incidence of Tooth Breakage Among Large, Predatory Mammals. The American Naturalist.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website