Dental Disease: Puppy Dental Care

What Is Canine Dental Disease?

This dog has obvious tartar and calculus build up that requires a vet to clean. Image Copr. Evan Kafka/Stone/Getty Images

Don’t let the puppy's dry kibble food in the bowl trick you into thinking your puppy food prevents tooth problems. Unless it’s a therapeutic food from your vet designed for dental health, dry foods at best help by only 10 percent, compared to canned or moist diets.

What Is Dental Disease?

Bacteria grow in left-behind food, mineralize, and form plaque. The bacteria also release enzymes that cause receding gums that loosen teeth, and redness and swelling (gingivitis). Eighty percent of dogs end up with periodontal disease (decayed teeth, sore gums, bleeding mouths) by the age of three. Besides mouth and tooth problems, chewing pumps bacteria into the bloodstream and that affects your pets’ heart, liver, and kidneys.

The urge to eat keeps most pets munching even with a sore mouth. Dogs hide mouth pain very well. They often act depressed or irritable, though, and stop playing or even hide. You may think the behavior change simply reflects a puppy’s bad attitude when in fact a toothache makes him cringe and retreat from the world.

Truly, the best prevention is for your pet to have good genes. Tooth problems are inherited, and small dogs with crowded mouths (Yorkies come to mind) as well as Greyhounds have more problems than others. One of the first signs you'll notice is stinky breath.

Veterinary Cleaning

Once the evidence becomes obvious, your pet requires a professional dentistry from your veterinarian. Dogs won’t open wide and say “ah” so a tooth cleaning requires anesthesia.

Most pets don’t get the same sort of cavities people do. Gum disease and bone resorption often take place below the gum-line so X-rays may be necessary. That can raise the cost, which varies depending on what your individual veterinarian charges, but it’s not unusual to range from the low $100 to three or four times that amount.

Most general practice veterinarians provide routine cleaning. That involves ultrasonic scaling, polishing, and sometimes fluoride treatments or antibiotics and pain medication, especially if teeth are pulled. Veterinary dentists who are specialists can also provide fillings, crowns, root canals, and even orthodontic work when your puppy’s teeth grow crooked and cause problems, for example.

Home Dental Care

Between veterinary visits and professional cleaning, provide home treatments to keep pungent breath under control. Offer treats that pets must gnaw to encourage a natural scrubbing action that cleans teeth as they chew. Dogs relish raw veggies such as carrots and apples. Offer cats a hunk of cooked steak too large to swallow whole. You can refer to some of these safe people foods that puppies can eat, as long as they don't overdo it.

A wide range of commercial dental chews (rawhide, ropes, treats) available for dogs may also prevent doggy breath. Most veterinary dentists dislike cow bones, pig hooves, and other hard chew objects. These often are so hard the dog may break teeth. Instead, look for special dental chews often infused with enzymes that help kill bacteria.

Brushing Puppy Teeth

You’ll find special pet toothbrushes and meat-flavored toothpaste from pet product stores. Some pet toothpaste also contains enzymes that help prevent plaque. Brushing after every meal is recommended, but a two to three times weekly regimen is good. Learn how to brush your puppy's teeth with these tips.

If you’re leery of sticking fingers inside Sheba or King’s mouth to brush, your veterinarian may recommend special “dental diets” and treats available in grocery stores or dispensed from the veterinarian. These often contain ingredients that help prevent plaque altogether or keep bacteria from adhering to teeth. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance, which endorses such products.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month but every day is a good time to check out your pets’ pearly whites.