How does dental health impact the overall health of my dog?

Think about the mouth. There are bacteria in and out of a dog's mouth all the time, and when we don't brush their teeth, the bacteria form plaque. That filling, that fuzzy feeling you get before you go to the dentist or before you brush your teeth, that's plaque. If we don't remove it, there are bacteria in that plaque that causes it to harden, forming calculus on the dog's teeth. Calculus is almost as thick as cement. So you've got all these bacteria trapped in their mouth and have straight access to basically every organ in the system. It can affect their kidneys and their heart. They can get an infection in the valves of their heart, and it can also affect their liver. It can really make a big difference in their overall health.

Dr. Amanda Shoemake
Haywood Road Animal Hospital

How can I care for my dog's teeth at home?

You can do many things at home, but I need to start by saying that if you're not going to do something very consistently, it won't be of much benefit. A dog's teeth are no different than ours, so ideally, they really need to be brushed at a minimum of once a day. Twice a day is even better, just like us. For a lot of people, that's just not feasible. We tell clients all the time, look, if you can get three days a week, it's better than nothing. It's not going to save them from getting tartar and calculus built up, but it will help delay it. Some dogs just are not going to let you brush their teeth, so other options are available that will help decrease the progression of dental disease.

There are chews, special chews that have enzymes in them that, as they chew them, help break down that bacteria so that it can't form into plaques and then calculus. There are water additives that do the same, but they're not supposed to have an odd smell or taste. Most dogs and cats drink that readily. You can use wipes using your index finger to wipe the plaque or bacteria off of your pet's teeth. So that's another option as well. Really, it's about what you can do from a time standpoint and what your dog will allow you to do. The more you can do one of these things, the better. All dogs, at some point, are going to need dental cleanings and dental care. Think about us. Ideally, we go to the dentist every six months, and we brush our teeth twice a day. Our dogs don't typically have that toothbrushing, and they don't typically come to see us for a dental cleaning every six months. So by the time we see them, there's the potential to be more of a problem.

What are some signs and symptoms of dental disease in dogs?

More often than not, dental disease goes unnoticed by the owner. Probably the number one sign that a dog has a dental disease, from the owner's perspective, is halitosis, which is a fancy word for bad breath. We know it, and they all have it. You can definitely tell sometimes, as they age, it gets worse, and most of that breath is because of all that bacteria. That's the biggest thing that most owners will notice. Some dogs will have trouble chewing, chewing on bones, or even their dry food. But I will tell you, we've got dogs that come in that are super painful in the mouth, and they still eat dry food, so that's not a very consistent indicator of dental disease. I often caution people not to look at pain at home because most people don't realize that their dog is in pain.

What are some of the common dental diseases in dogs?

Our biggest dental disease is just the accumulation of that plaque and that tartar. What happens when that sits on the teeth is, eventually, you've got bacteria that can cause gingivitis, which is reddening and pain in that gingival tissue. That can happen all the way around the mouth. That's what we see most often. We also see broken teeth because dogs like to chew on hard things sometimes, and they will fracture a tooth. If they fracture a tooth badly enough, they can have a nerve or a blood vessel exposed. Just like if you have a toothache, that's what a dog feels when they have one of those nerves exposed. There's that chronic ache and pain. Dogs can also get tumors in their mouth that can originate in the teeth or the oral cavity. They can get some issues with their gingival tissue. They can have an overgrowth of that tissue that can cause problems, and they may have abscesses. So we can get a dog with a tooth root abscess that literally has puss draining out of a tooth. Obviously, that's going to make them feel terrible and can cause a lot of other illnesses as well.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of dental disease so important?

I touched on this, but the longer we let dental disease progress, the longer we let this tarter and calculus sit on that dog's teeth, the more problems it will cause. It's going to start to eat away at the attachment. We're going to start to see abscesses, and we're going to start to have a loss of attachment of the teeth, which may lead to needing extractions, and no one wants their dog to lose teeth. So we want to try to avoid that as much as possible. The earlier we catch these things and the earlier we do something about it, the more problems we can prevent from happening in the first place.

How often should my dog's teeth be checked?

We recommend every six months at a minimum. However, we will examine the teeth of every pet that comes into our hospital and sees a doctor. So you come in with your dog who is itching, we're going to look at their teeth, and we might talk to you about a dental cleaning during that visit. But the absolute minimum is once a year for their annual visit. Again, the ideal would be every six months.

What is a professional dental cleaning like for a dog?

Dogs will not sit still and let us clean your teeth, nor will they allow us to take x-rays. Here at Haywood Road, we feel that x-rays are vital for every dental cleaning. That is included in the cost of your dog's dental cleaning. When we do a dental cleaning, they do go under general anesthesia. So they come in, you drop them off that morning, and they get some nice calming meds. We place an IV catheter, and then when we're ready to do the procedure, we put them under general anesthesia. We then take those x-rays, and again, we take full-mouth x-rays of all of the teeth, just like you get when you go to the dentist. Once we've taken those x-rays, we will check for pockets or exposed roots, which we see quite a bit of.

Then we will clean the teeth and use an ultrasonic scaler, and we can actually get up under the gum line, which is another reason why that general anesthesia is so important. It's similar to a deep cleaning that a dentist can do, and they usually sedate patients for that as well. So again, we get all sides of the tooth under the gum line. If there are any problems, we see if there needs to be any teeth removed. Once we are all done, we recover the patient. Each patient has their own anesthesia monitor during the procedure. One of our technicians or our assistants will monitor all of their vitals during the procedure. They get IV fluids while they're under for the procedure, and then they recover your pet. So they stay with your pet until they're awake, and usually, a few hours after that, they're ready to go home. As we've talked about, here at Haywood Road, we really are passionate about dentistry in dogs. We feel that we can prevent many diseases, prevent pain, and just keep these guys healthy for as long as possible.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (864) 288-7472, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media,

Dog Dental - FAQs

Dr. Amanda Shoemake
Haywood Road Animal Hospital

Why does my dog need anesthesia for teeth cleaning?

Some people don't like dental cleanings either, but unlike people, dogs are not going to sit still for us to clean their teeth. When we do a dental cleaning on a dog, it's more like a deep cleaning that you would get if you go to the dentist. We get underneath the gum line, scale, and polish those teeth. So it's not the most pleasant procedure. Also, when we do a dental cleaning here at Haywood Road, we take x-rays of all of their teeth, and this has to be done under anesthesia because, again, they're just not going to sit still for those x-rays.

How's anesthesia administered to my dog, and who monitors it after it's been given?

We use a couple of different types of anesthesia for these procedures. All of our anesthetic procedures have an IV catheter placed, and they all get some calming medicine at the beginning of the procedure. Once we are ready to begin the procedure, they get IV medication to make them go to sleep. Then once they are asleep, we place a breathing tube down their trachea that continues to deliver gas anesthetic during the procedure. It's very similar to what you would have in a human medical procedure. While they're under anesthesia, we have technicians and assistants that monitor things like their heart rate, their respiratory rate, their blood pressure, and the percentage of oxygen, and they also deliver IV fluids while they're under anesthesia just to help keep them stable for the procedure.

I've heard some vets offer anesthesia-free dentals. Is this true?

This is true. I'll be honest; it's a terrible idea because, with dogs, more than 80% of dental diseases will be under the gumline where you can't see it. I've even had cases, I've had my own dog who had a normal-appearing tooth on the outside, and once we got up under the gumline and we could take those x-rays, we realized there was disease under the gumline that necessitated that tooth being extracted. So it's really important for them to be under anesthesia so that we can get a complete exam and do a complete cleaning because, again, most of the diseases come up under that gumline.

Why are antibiotics and pain medications sometimes prescribed for dog dental procedures?

Depending on what the situation is, if a dog needs a tooth extracted or some other type of procedure, we will send home pain medicine. We don't typically do any kinds of surgical procedures here without appropriate pain medications, so your dog might go home with pain medicine. If the infection in the dog's mouth is really severe, sometimes we'll start antibiotics either at the time of the dental or, in some cases, we'll even start a few days before the dental to help prevent some of that infection from going into his or her bloodstream while we're cleaning their teeth.

How do I know if my dog will have a reaction to anesthesia?

That's a good question, and we can't always tell. We do a lot of things to increase the safety of our anesthetic procedures. With a dental cleaning, we do require pre-anesthetic blood work, which checks for infection, blood counts, the functions of the liver and the kidneys, and the pet's electrolytes. It does a lot of things to tell us how safe it is to put them under anesthesia. It doesn't tell us whether or not they might have a reaction. Just like in people, there are complications associated with anesthesia, but they are few and far between.

Is my dog too old for anesthesia?

We never really say a dog is too old. It's more based on their overall health. Are they healthy, or is their heart healthy? Is that blood work that we've checked okay? Things like that. It's never something that we will not put a dog under anesthesia because, more often than not, they can have things that can be painful, and we can really improve their quality of life through a dental cleaning.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (864) 288-7472, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media,

Dog Dental - FAQs 2

Dr. Amanda Shoemake
Haywood Road Animal Hospital

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

Just think of yourself. To take care of your teeth, you brush them a minimum of twice a day. So I would say, to make a difference in your dog, you must brush them daily. That being said, anything is better than nothing, so the more you can brush them, the better off your dog's teeth will be, and the further apart their dental cleanings will be needed. The more you can brush, the better.

Are there any tips for making brushing a dog's teeth easier?

The biggest tip that I have is to start slow. Don't go on day one and think that you'll be able to fully brush your dog's teeth. Start it as a little bit of a game. Let them play with the toothbrush, bite on the toothbrush, put doggy toothpaste on it, and let them lick that off and get used to it. Then start with just a tooth or two and do a little bit each session until your dog is used to it.

What product should I use to brush my dog's teeth?

They make specific toothpaste for dogs, and I always recommend using one of those products.

Can I use human toothpaste?

No, human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed, and most dogs will not spit it out for you, so you definitely always want to use dog toothpaste. Most dog toothpaste is flavored with something they're going to like, such as chicken or beef or something like that, so most of the time, it's not mint. It's going to be a flavor that they really enjoy.

Do I still need to brush my dog's teeth even if I give Greenies?

Brushing their teeth will be far superior to anything you can give them. So yes, if you are able to brush your dog's teeth and you're willing to do that, even if you give them treats, I would still recommend that you brush.

Can dogs get cavities?

Dogs can get cavities. It's not very often that we see that because they don't eat the sugary things that we often eat that help break down that enamel to allow cavities. They can get them, and they can be fixed, though most people opt to just remove that tooth if that's the case.

Are there chew toys that can work to also brush my dog's teeth?

There are definitely chew toy options. There are water additives and other things that you can do at home to brush their teeth if you can't actually brush. As I said, all of those things are going to be useful. I would say those things aren't as good as brushing, but they are still helpful.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (864) 288-7472, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media,