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Brushing Up on Tooth Matters

Our dogs are living healthier and longer lives due to advances in veterinary medicine, such as vaccines, heartworm testing and better technology in place to diagnosis illness. However, even with these advances, dental disease is still a common issue in dogs today often leading to more serious health issues such as Endocarditis (heart valve infection) and Pyelonphritis (serve kidney infection)?

What are common dental issues in dogs?

  1. Plaque: Caused by food particles and bacteria collecting along the gumline.
  2. Tarter: If plaque is not removed, minerals in the salvia combine with plaque and form tarter (or Calculus) which adheres strongly to the teeth. Tarter will cause inflammation in gums commonly referred to as gingivitis. Signs of this can be seen with reddening of the gums below and around the teeth and causes bad breath.
  3. Periodontal Disease: If the tartar is not removed, it builds up under the gums. It separates the gums from the teeth to form “pockets” and encourages even more bacterial growth. At this point the damage is irreversible, and called periodontal disease. It can be very painful and can lead to loose teeth, abscesses, bone loss or infection. As bacterial growth continues to increase, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream, causing infection of the heart valves (endocarditis), liver and kidneys.

What steps can be done to prevent dental issues in dogs?
1. Annual visits to your veterinarian generally include an oral exam that check for the following:

  • Dogs face and head for asymmetry, swelling or discharge.
  • Outside surfaces of the teeth and gums and the “bite”.
  • Inner surfaces of the teeth and gums and the tongue, palates, oral mucosa, tonsils, and ventral tongue area.
  • Palpate and assess size, shape and consistency of the salivary glands and the lymph nodes in the neck.

2. Veterinarian dental cleaning as advised. Dental cleanings generally include:

  • Anesthetizing your dog.
  • Taking radiographs (x-rays) to assess the health of all of the teeth and bones of the mouth.
  • Flushing the mouth with a solution to kill the bacteria.
  • Cleaning the teeth with handheld and ultrasonic scalers. All calculus is removed from above and below the gumline. This is extremely important and can only be done if the animal is under anesthesia.
  • Using a disclosing solution to show any areas of remaining calculus which are then removed.
  • Polishing the teeth to remove microscopic scratches.
  • Inspecting each tooth and the gum around it for any signs of disease.
  • Flushing the mouth, again, with an antibacterial solution.
  • Optionally, applying a dental agent to retard plaque build-up.
  • Recording any abnormalities or additional procedures on a dental chart.
  • Determining the best follow-up and home dental care program for your dog.

3. Daily home dental care which includes:

  • Brushing of teeth daily to weekly depending on your dogs diet, chewing habits, and breed. Ask your veternarian for the brushing regimen that best suits your dog.
  • Check for warning signs such as bad breath and redness around gums
  • Chew toys which aid in the elimination of plaque and tarter build up. A list of chew toys can be found on The Veterinary Oral Health’s Council website.

PetPartners, Inc the provider of the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan encourages pet owners to speak with their veterinarian about dental care needs for their pets. Dental care is a vital part of keeping your dog happy and healthy. The AKC Pet Healthcare Plan offers the Wellness and Wellness Plus plan that have superior dental cleaning benefits to help prevent dental disease. Please visit our website for more information at


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