Canine Dental Anatomy
Adult dogs have 42 teeth. As puppies, they are born without teeth. By the time they are 8 weeks old, all baby teeth will be in place. By six months of age, all adult teeth should be in place. A normal dog’s gums should be shiny and pink, and teeth should be clean. The lower incisors are just behind the uppers, while the lower canine fits right into the center of the space between the upper 3rd incisor and canine. There is no tooth-to-tooth contact, no tooth-to-soft tissue contact, no crowding, no rotations, and no under-eruption.
Common Dental Problems
Malocclusion, or improper positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed, can be painful. For puppies, it’s important to check their teeth frequently since they will not show signs of pain. Sometimes, puppies will also retain their baby teeth as the adult tooth is moving into position. Often, extractions can be necessary to prevent the adult teeth from moving into an abnormal position.
Brachycephalic dogs can also experience crowded teeth or rotated teeth due to the structure of their face. Crowded teeth allow for more plaque and tartar to build up which creates issues over time.
Missing teeth can sometimes indicate an embedded tooth. Only a dental x-ray will reveal an embedded tooth hidden in the gumline. Finding these hidden teeth early will prevent bigger issues like cysts developing later.
Broken teeth can be caused by dogs chewing on inappropriate objects like rocks. Broken teeth are painful because nerve endings are exposed. It can also lead to infections.
Why is your dog’s breath so bad? Bacteria on the teeth cause smelly breath. It’s important to understand the differences between plaque and tartar and what causes bacteria build up. Plaque is bacterial biofilm, and it accumulates on the tooth overnight. Plaque mineralizes into tartar. It can’t be brushed away and requires scaling to remove.
How to Prevent Periodontal Disease
Toothbrushing is the gold standard of care. You must be consistent and brush your dog’s teeth every day for it to be effective. Plaque will form on a clean tooth within hours and can start to form tartar within a few days.
Start early and use praise and treats so that your dog gets used to you brushing their teeth. Make it a habit so that your dog will learn the routine as well. Use a soft bristle toothbrush and pet toothpaste to brush the teeth at a 45-degree angle. Never use human toothpaste. Always be sure to stop and seek veterinary care if your pet appears to be in pain when attempting brushing.
There are products that are designed to prevent accumulation of bacteria in the mouth. These must be used daily and will help the bacteria from growing. It is not as effective as brushing but it will help soften the plaque and make it easier to remove.
The Veterinary Oral Health Council is an organization that tests these products, so the ones that have this seal of approval are helpful to use, such as Greenies or Whimzees. Make sure that the sizes are appropriate for your dog and monitor your pets when they chew the treats.
Tartar Prevention Diets
The standard kibble is designed to shatter as the pet bites into it. Tartar prevention diets are designed to not break and create a mechanical abrasion as your pet chews. These diets are not a substitute for brushing, but they will help.
A proper assessment must be performed under anesthesia. Dental x-rays are necessary since half the tooth is under the gum line. Every tooth must be assessed as well as the gums and tongue. Then, scaling the tartar off each tooth with polishing to create a smooth surface occurs.
A good physical exam in addition to bloodwork is also necessary before putting your dog under anesthesia. Any underlying issues should be examined before the dental assessment occurs.
How Often Should Your Pet Have an Oral ATP (assessment)?
By the time your dog is 2, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease. For small dogs, 90% of them have some signs of periodontal disease by 1 year of age. Small dogs should have their first oral ATP by 1 year of age. Large dogs should have the assessment by age 2. Then, it will be annual every year after.
Dr. Cooper’s Responses to Unanswered Questions
Would I be able to break a dental chew and give my tiny Pomeranian a piece or would that hurt his gums with the edges?
Most Dental chews are firmer and could possibly have a rougher edge. The Oravet chews are very pliable & would likely not leave a rougher edge.
What would I be able to give him to help with his dental care aside from brushing his teeth and his yearly dental exams and cleaning?
Dental chews, water additives, and even a dental diet!
What would the best chew stick be to give my tiny Pomeranian that is not rawhide?
Hollywood Feed recommendation: There are lots of options that can offer the mechanical motion required to scrape plaque off their teeth. Try a bully stick; these are natural tendons that get soft as they are chewed. Remember, supervision is required with any treat or chew, especially if it’s something new for you and your pet!
If the chew stick is wrapped thick and of course being hard, couldn’t that break his teeth?
Hollywood Feed recommendation: Anything has the potential to cause damage if the correct option is not selected – you must consider your pets’ size & chew style before making a selection. Plus, always be sure to supervise them!
Is there a chew produced that becomes soft easily and can be chewed and last that won’t break his teeth and digest without hurting him?
Hollywood Feed recommendation: Bully sticks are easily digestible and are meant to be longer last chews when compared to many different treats. These soften as they are chewed, but it is recommended to take this item away when it becomes too small & has the potential to be swallowed. If they ingest too large of a chew, even if digestible, it has the potential to cause a blockage. This is true of anything & why supervision is so important!
I recently saw someone mention using Kelp for dental care in dogs. Do you have any thoughts on this?
ProDen Plaque Off System is on the approved VOHC list!
What are your thoughts on raw diets? Everyone I know who feeds raw diets have white teeth on their dogs.
White teeth do not necessarily indicate there is no disease present. I have not seen any research studies on the correlation.
I feed a freeze-dried raw diet with my Jack Russell and tend to be holistic. Are raw meaty bones a good selection for him? I used to give him bully sticks but am a little scared of possible bacteria. I have a rubber chuck-it ball he chews some. Is that ok as well? I also heard that tennis balls are not ok to let him chew because it can erode the enamel. Is that true? Thank you!
Tennis balls can act like sandpaper against the teeth due to their texture. It is best to avoid these as a chew toy. The rubber Chuck-It ball should be fine for chewing & playing if it’s the right size!
This isn’t a dental question, but more of a vet question. My husky is SUPER friendly to the point of annoyance, and my vet has a hard time giving her vaccines because she seriously tries to lick and mouth his hands and paw at him when he’s trying to work. Is there anyway I can keep her from doing that?
Get some of that energy out before it’s time to visit the vet! Take a treat with you to the vet to help distract them.
Where can you buy Oravet?
These can be found at your veterinary offices.
Are water additives, specifically Bluestem from Hollywood Feed, safe for small animals such as ferrets?
From Bluestem: Although we haven’t done any specific research on ferrets, all our ingredients are certified as GRAS (approve as safe ingredients by the government. Therefore, it is unlikely that it would cause side effects on ferrets. I would suggest starting with half the dose for two weeks and monitor if there are any changes in the ferret’s behavior. If any changes, please stop using immediately. If all goes well continue with the regular dosage for the next two weeks and monitor if any changes. If no change, continue the usage.
Can you use the promo code in the store?
Hollywood Feed recommendation: Yes, it is available for use in-store as well as online!
I read that sorbitol shouldn’t be ingested, but most canine dentifrices contain sorbitol. With repeated use couldn’t that create problems?
According to a board-certified toxicologist in 2019, sorbitol is not hazardous & used as a cathartic. Xylitol is the only alcohol sugar of concern for pets! Sorbitol is used as a thickener & sweetener, but in the amounts used daily should not come close to cathartic levels.
Is a benign epulis caused by bad oral hygiene?
It is a focal hyperplasia that represents active inflammation. Benign mass starts at the periodontal ligament. The fibrous epulis is an area of focal hyperplasia and represents active inflammation rather than a cancerous process. Typically a reaction to trauma – anything that can cause inflammation could cause a benign epulis.
Does plaque accumulate inside the tooth versus the exterior side?
Palatal side of the tooth is towards the inside of the pallet versus buccal, which is facing the cheek. More tartar is accumulated on the buccal surface.
What is the best way to brush dogs’ teeth, side to side or more up and down?
It depends on what your pet allows, but circular may be best, followed by back & forth.