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

When you have a pet that has a healthy mouth to begin with, which is generally going to be your very young pets, the best thing to do is to get started with daily teeth brushing. Yes, it does need to be daily because that plaque and tartar build up on their teeth every single day, just like it does on yours and mine. Getting them used to teeth brushing, which is a process, is the best way to help prevent gum disease in the mouth. Other helpful things are dental chews.

One of the ones we like a lot is called OraVet. It's a dental chew that has a brushing action as they chew on it, but it also releases a plaque repellent so that, as they chew on it, the saliva carries the plaque repellent on all of the teeth. It's not near as good as brushing, but it is something. A healthy mouth water additive is one very passive way of helping to reduce plaque buildup, although water additives will be less effective in general. If you use water additives, make sure it's the brand Healthy Mouth.

Dr. Shawn McCorkle
Summer Creek Animal Clinic

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

The most common thing that we experience in dogs or the most common thing that you as a pet owner experience is bad breath. That's always the thing that comes up to the point where people think it's normal for their dogs to have stinky breath. That's one of the common signs of gum disease or infection in the gum tissue. And so the plaque and tartar are essentially made up of billions of bacteria, and that bacteria causes infection and inflammation once it gets under the gum line. That infection and inflammation are what you're smelling is bad breath. So the worse that the disease progresses, the worse the breath tends to get.

What are some of the common dental diseases in dogs?

By far, the most common thing we see in dogs is periodontal disease or gum disease. Because plaque and tartar are always building up and getting under the gum line, 85% of dogs by the age of three will have some form of gum disease, so it's incredibly prevalent. Another common thing we see in dogs because they're chewers is broken teeth. That's very important because the owners do not often see it because they don't tend to show signs. Identifying broken teeth can help understand if the mouth is painful because broken teeth are painful, and then coming up with a plan to treat the painful teeth.

Other things we see, for example, in squished faced dogs—English Bulldogs, pugs, and other breeds like that—tend to get impacted teeth that can lead to cysts under the gum line. And that can be problematic and something that we cannot diagnose without dental x-rays. So those are just a few of the more common things we see.

What is professional dental cleaning like for a dog?

The professional dental procedure is one that we do under anesthesia to evaluate the mouth very thoroughly. When I do an oral exam on a pet that's awake, I can see quite a bit, but it's still very limited regarding what is ultimately going on in the mouth. I can't see anything under the gum line. To thoroughly evaluate the mouth and thoroughly treat any disease, the dog must be under anesthesia to get the full mouth dental x-rays critical to thoroughly diagnosing disease. As I said, this allows me to do any sort of treatment that's necessary.

So we get them under anesthesia, get the full mouth dental x-rays, thoroughly evaluate the mouth, probe around each tooth. We're really looking at each individual tooth (there are naturally 42 teeth in an adult dog) and identifying what stage of periodontal disease. Is there any broken tooth? Is there anything abnormal that needs to be addressed? And then, of course, we're thoroughly cleaning the teeth under the gum line, which is the most critical part—and then coming up with a treatment plan while they're under anesthesia because we can't identify what needs to be done until that point.

We have a great email that we can send out to people to give them more details on that, to help them understand what they should be expecting, but that's essentially what a dental procedure looks like.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (817) 523-1139, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Dentistry/Dental - FAQs

Dr. Shawn McCorkle
Summer Creek Animal Clinic

How do I know if my dog needs a dental exam?

The most common thing we see with dogs is that the owners notice bad breath. That is one of the common symptoms. Other things to look for are if they're dropping their food, if they're eating slower than they typically used to, if they're not eating as much, if they're shy from you being around their head—any changes like that could be an indication that your dog needs dental care. Now, the hard part about dogs, and cats for that matter, when it comes to their mouths is they don't typically show you any signs of pain. It's essential to come in for regular wellness visits so that we can evaluate the mouth and determine if there's anything off because most of the time when we find something, the owners are unaware.

How often does my dog need a dental exam?

The general recommendation for dogs is biannual or twice-a-year exams, and that's typically what we're going to recommend for wellness visits. Having your dog's mouth evaluated twice a year is usually a good place to start unless they're prone to breaking their teeth or something like that; if we can't control their chewing. But generally twice a year is going to be a good start.

Will my dog be getting dental x-rays?

Yes—when we do a dental procedure, which is generally going to be something we recommend annually after about the age of three, and that varies depending on the situation, but dental x-rays are a critical component of us evaluating the mouth. We cannot see under the gum line unless we have dental x-rays, and most of the disease is under the gum line. It's critical to be able to address any infection, inflammation, or pain in your dog's mouth. We can't do that thoroughly without the x-rays, and I wouldn't recommend doing a dental procedure without dental x-rays. You're going to leave disease behind, and therefore, potentially infection and pain behind in your pet's mouth that you can't see or are unaware of because it's all under the gum line.

How long does a dog dental cleaning appointment take?

It really varies based on the level of disease, as the dental procedure is based on being able to evaluate and treat any disease present. In general, a good dental procedure—including anesthesia, the dental x-rays, a thorough oral exam under anesthesia with probing, and then a thorough cleaning—is going to take 45 minutes to an hour. But whenever there's additional work that needs to be done or extractions if there's significant disease, that time can vary. The anesthetic part is vital to be able to provide a really high level of anesthesia with tight monitoring to ensure that we minimize any sort of risks or complications. We always make sure to minimize any risks, and we can discuss that in more detail.

If my dog does need extractions, will they be given pain medications?

Yeah, absolutely. Anything we do in the mouth that is going to cause discomfort, we always treat with pain meds. Even the basic cleaning is going to be somewhat uncomfortable, so we give them pain meds during the procedure. But anything postoperatively that's going to be painful, so for example, with extractions, we numb everything in the mouth before we do anything so they wake up comfortable and we can keep them on less anesthesia. Then, they're going to go home with anti-inflammatories at a minimum and sometimes additional pain medications because pain control is extremely important.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (817) 523-1139, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.