Owner Involvement is Key in Maintaining Canine Dental Health

Owner Involvement is Key in Maintaining Canine Dental Health

Pets are living longer than ever these days, and their teeth are an important factor in their quality of life as they age.

Dental care for dogs includes more than just cleanings. Since the majority of canine dental issues occur beneath the gumline, vets are on the lookout for issues that could affect tooth function and dogs’ ability to eat. And owners should be vigilant, too.

Image of Canine Tooth

The ailments

When we catch dental problems early, they are often easy to remedy. However, if dogs don’t receive treatment in time, these difficulties can develop into bigger ones that may even need attention from a specialist.

One issue that plagues dogs is unerupted teeth. A tooth that has failed to clear the gumline can become painful when a dentigerous cyst forms around the unerupted tooth. These cysts can eat away at the jaw bone if they are allowed to fester. An unerupted tooth can be removed fairly easily, but if cysts have set in and the jaw is damaged, the animal may have to visit a boarded dentist for treatment.

Another potentially painful problem is cracked teeth. Dogs can damage teeth when picking up sticks and hard toys. When it comes down to it, they don’t know how to carefully play with solid objects, and physics is physics — sometimes the toy is just stronger than the tooth.

Tooth removal shouldn't be taken lightly. Pets need a thorough exam and dental radiographs to determine how deep the crack is and if it involves the pulp cavity or root before the decision is made to perform an extraction. If so, the tooth needs to come out to prevent future infection and pain. The good news is, teeth can be removed fairly easily, and pets can resume normal activities soon.

abnormal x-ray of a dog's teeth
normal x-ray of a dog's teeth

Owner involvement

Pet owners can watch for problems like unerupted or cracked teeth, which are more common in dogs between one and three years old. The sooner they realize their dog is in pain and get him or her in to the veterinarian, the sooner we can help that animal. Here are a few things to be aware of that may indicate a brewing issue:

  • Swelling of the upper or lower jaw.
  • Decreased jaw mobility.
  • Jaw sensitivity, especially when eating.
  • Chewing with only one side of the mouth.
  • Dog breeds: bulldogs, with their short noses, don’t usually need as much attention as, say, Dachshunds with their long, pointed faces. Longer noses mean dryer teeth, which means faster tartar buildup, and owners of these breeds should expect more frequent dentals.

Owner involvement also means making sure dogs have the ongoing attention that results in healthy teeth and gums. Dental cleanings generally should start when the animal is still young, typically around two years. Dogs with missing teeth will need to begin having cleanings earlier, and it’s important to continue the process as pets age.

Trouble begins with tartar, which builds up between the tooth and gum line, forming a wedge that separates the tooth from the gum. At Countryside, we often see dogs six to eight years old with teeth that are loose and no longer salvageable because of tartar buildup that’s gone too far.

Unhealthy canine teeth
Healthy canine teeth

Since cleanings involve anesthesia, we are very careful about when we choose to clean, particularly with older patients. The American Veterinary Medical Association puts tartar buildup on a one-to-four scale. One means little buildup, and four means teeth may need to come out. Once we start to see gingivitis and calculi buildup, which often puts the patient at stage two, we should perform a dental.

Although there is some risk involved with putting dogs under, especially as they age, the procedure is worth doing because of the profound effect it can have on quality of life. A dog with all or most of its teeth is probably going to enjoy its food more than one who has had to have a mouthful of teeth pulled.

So, the most important message to take away is when it comes to dental maintenance in dogs is for owners to be aware. If they watch for signs of distress and bring their pets in sooner rather than later, we have a better chance of removing an unerupted or cracked tooth before the issue progresses. If we can see their dog’s teeth yearly, we also have the opportunity to eliminate tartar before it causes an irreversible problem.

We want to see canine patients be able to use their teeth their whole lives. Preventative measures and appropriate maintenance along the way help make that goal possible.

Article by: Liz Crumbly