How does dental health affect the overall health of my dog?
That's a great question. Many people think dental health is just confined to the mouth. And that's partly true. We see calculus build up on the teeth. The problem is that it presses up against the gums, and the gums are very vascular. So it's very easy for bacteria to jump into the bloodstream, and your dog's vessels can bring those right to the heart, liver, kidneys, and things like that. So we see systemic problems coming from something as simple as a moderate dental disease.
Dr. Adam Boe, DVM
Smithfield Animal Hospital
What are some common dental diseases in dogs?
The big ones are dental calculus, that build-up of brown film on the teeth that otherwise would be white. We see gingivitis a lot. If you lift your dog's teeth, you can see the gums right around those teeth are more reddened than they should be. Signs include gums that are receding. So in advanced cases, you'll see more of the tooth's root than you should. The other thing that's typical in puppies is fractures. We might see a portion of the tooth crown broken off. That can be risky because bacteria can get into the root and travel right down to the bone.
What are some signs and symptoms of dental disease in dogs?
The biggest one, and the most common reason people come into the clinic, is because their dog has very bad breath. Beyond that, people often describe symptoms of pain when their dogs are eating. Things I frequently see are dogs picking up some food and eating it one piece at a time. They may be eating on just one side of the mouth to avoid a tooth, and they might not be eating as much as they used to.
What does a typical dog dental look like?
What we typically do for a dog's dental is I'll anesthetize the pup, and we'll do a full evaluation of those teeth, do cleaning, and polish each one. Then I do full x-rays. I do that because looking at the exterior of the tooth can give you a good idea of its health, but there are a lot of diseases that hide in the jaw itself or at least under the surface. So until we get an x-ray, we can't fully tell if a tooth is healthy.
You mentioned anesthesia. I've heard some vets offer anesthesia-free dentals. Is that true?
I would say an anesthesia-free dental is a bit of a misnomer. We can do a very superficial cleaning of the teeth, but in order to do a full dental cleaning, they really need to be under anesthesia. KOA is an excellent dog, and he will obey some commands, but if he is out, I can do a full exam of every single tooth and surface and put extra equipment in his mouth to evaluate those. Unfortunately, he won't allow it if he's awake. It's unsafe for him and for us. I always perform my dental cleanings under full anesthesia.
How is anesthesia administered to my dog, and who monitors them after it's given?
We do a combination of injectable and gas. We'll give some pre-medication that will make sure that he's not going to feel any pain or discomfort, and then we'll maintain them on gas anesthesia. With dental work, we never know quite how long it will take. We go into each one hoping that we can just clean those teeth and polish them before waking him up, but sometimes we identify things under anesthesia that need to be corrected on the spot. That lets us tailor the anesthesia to whatever we need to do in that time. Once they are under anesthesia, I have a technician specializing in anesthesia monitoring. She watches our state-of-the-art anesthetic monitoring equipment to ensure your pup does well through the whole procedure.
How do I know if my dog will have a reaction to the anesthesia?
The best way to know is if they've ever reacted to anesthesia before. Usually, dogs will have done a spay or neuter beforehand, so we'll know if they didn't do well in that procedure. But ultimately, as with any new food or medication that you or your dog takes, they could have an allergic reaction. That's something that we monitor very closely and that we rarely see.
Why are antibiotics and pain medications sometimes prescribed for dog's dental procedures?
I don't always send home pain medications or antibiotics. It will depend on what we do during the dental. If it's just cleaning, and we wake them right back up, there's no need for me to send those home. If we end up having to do any extractions or remove any small masses, I will make sure to send home antibiotics just because dog mouths are very dirty. I want to make sure we're not contributing to any infections. When we do any procedure, I want to make sure they're comfortable at home. We'll send them home with pain meds for as long as they need to recover.
In addition to doing a dental procedure, how can I care for my dog's teeth at home?
Luckily there are a lot of products on the market right now. The gold standard is teeth brushing. That's why dentists recommend we do it. If you're able to do that at home at least a few times a week, it will go a long way in preventing dental disease. Many dogs won't allow it, and it doesn't fit with many owners' schedules. But apart from that, I don't have recommendations besides dental chews, water additives, food additives, specialty diets, and other great options. It really comes down to your individual dog. Try one and see how they respond. If it does a good job of keeping that plaque and gingivitis down, you can continue with it. We can always add in additional therapy.
If those therapies at home aren't working and I need to schedule a dental procedure, how might I go about doing that?
The best thing to do is just give us a call, and we can schedule a regular visit. I'll do a mouth exam of the mouth and decide if a dental appointment is needed at that time. We'll do some pre-anesthetic blood work before any anesthesia and ensure that your dog's a good candidate. As with any procedure, we always want to weigh the pros and the cons, and we'll only go through with it if it makes the most sense for you.
If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (570) 421-7738, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.