It’s Thanksgiving Day and you and your extended family is sitting down to a large spread. You fill your plate and start to tuck into your herb-rubbed and 3-day brined turkey, buttered mashed potatoes, and your aunt’s famous cranberry-orange salad. Before you take a bite, you notice something smells…off. It’s not the food. No, the food looks fine. You look down to your left, and, right next to your elbow, is your loyal chocolate lab, Cynthia. She is panting and drooling over your turkey that she has been smelling in the oven all day. And her breath could stun a yak. She gets dental chewies and bones to chew on. You even got some “breath freshening treats” that Cynthia gets daily. So why is her breath so atrocious? Dogs require regular dental check ups (these are done by your vet with their regular exams) to prevent both dental disease and systemic or whole body infections. If your dog’s teeth seem to be accumulating tartar, they may need a teeth cleaning. Read on as we discuss how tartar builds up, what you can do to help prevent it, and when your pup may need to see a veterinarian in Fairfax for a more in-depth cleaning.

How does tartar build up?

After eating, plaque starts to form within a few hours. Plaque is soft, but when it is added to elements in saliva, it starts to harden and form tartar. Tartar is the tan-brown material that builds up on the teeth of dogs, and it can form above and below the gum line. Tartar is an easy structure for bacteria to grow on, and bacteria can cause gum inflammation which can be painful.

How can I prevent tartar build up?

The best way to prevent tartar from building up is brushing your pup’s teeth regularly, especially after meals. Human toothpaste can contain chemicals, like xylitol, that can be toxic to dogs, so be sure to use a pet-specific toothpaste. A dog-specific toothbrush can be used, or a human toothbrush works well too. Toothbrushes that slip over your finger may work well for dogs that are nervous around or don’t like regular toothbrushes. Another option if your dog does not allow you to brush their teeth is dental chews. These are available from your veterinarian or from pet stores. The type that contain special enzymes tend to work the best to prevent tartar build up, but really anything your dog has to chew will help their teeth. Your vet can recommend some safe choices based on your dog’s size and the status of their teeth. Dental washes are also available from your vet or pet stores that can help tartar build up.

What if brushing and dental chews aren’t working?

If your pup has tartar or bad breath that isn’t helped by brushing or chews, your vet should take a look. Sometimes teeth can have problems below the gum line that can’t been seen. These problems are usually found during a dental exam or when the dog is having a dental procedure under anesthesia. Your vet may recommend a teeth cleaning under general anesthesia for a variety of reasons, or if your dog is having another procedure your vet can usually add on a dental cleaning so your pup doesn’t have to undergo anesthesia a second time. In addition to tartar accumulation, loose or worn teeth or dental abscesses are another reason your dog may need a dental. Mouth trauma or accidents may also involve anesthesia to check on the teeth. If you dog needs a dental, your vet will run bloodwork first to make sure they have no underlying disease that could make anesthesia risky. Dentals are done under general anesthesia and your dog will also get IV fluids. The teeth are scaled to remove tartar, polished, and any teeth that are loose or causing problems will be extracted. Sometimes your vet will put a treatment on the teeth to also help keep excess tartar from building up. Your vet may need wet food or their dry food softened with water for several days after their dental if they had teeth removed. They will also probably go home on an antibiotic to prevent infection.

How often are dental check ups and cleanings needed?

Dental check ups can be done daily on your own dog, which is easy to do when you brush their teeth. If you notice anything out of the ordinary or bleeding, you should discuss it with your vet. Often, your vet will have a vet tech do a quick (and usually free) dental check if you ask. With your dog’s yearly or bi-yearly exam, your vet will check in your pup’s mouth and look at their teeth as part of their full exam. These exams will catch any obvious problems with the teeth or gums (sometimes tumors can form in the mouth and can be seen on regular exam). Other problems can only be found when the vet is able to do a full dental exam under anesthesia by probing around teeth to ensure the tooth root is secure. How often your dog needs a dental cleaning depends on many factors, including breed, underlying problems or previous traumas, diet, and genetics. Breeds like greyhounds are known for bad teeth due to genetics, and usually require regular dental cleanings. Your rescue, breeder, or vet can help you understand your dog’s breed (or breeds!) and how often they anticipate needing dental work. Of course, this all depends on the individual dog too. Some may need check-ups and dental cleanings much more often than others. If your dog is prone to tartar or other dental concerns, your vet may recommend a special diet (known as a dental diet) to help scrape plaque off the teeth during a meal. Often dental diets have larger kibble pieces to help control plaque and tartar. These diets are best when used as the only food, but sometimes owners like to use them as treats in addition to regular diets.

Dental disease and bacteria in the mouth can lead to kidney and heart problems. Bacteria can travel from the mouth into the bloodstream and cause systemic problems. The methods above are the best ways to prevent this from happening and keeping your dog happy and healthy.

Town & Country Animal Hospital
9836 Fairfax Blvd
Fairfax, VA 22030

(703) 273-2110