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

If you think about the mouth, it's kind of the gateway for everything. With dental disease, we're talking about bacteria that set up shop on your dog's teeth. So when your dog eats and breathes in, that bacteria is going to the rest of his body. It can affect all of their organs, their kidneys, their liver, and their heart. Good dental hygiene and health are important to keep these guys healthy.

Amanda Shoemake
Haywood Animal Hospital

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

There are things that you can do at home. What I always tell people first is that dogs' teeth are very much like our teeth. Ideally, we brush our teeth twice a day. We go to the dentist every six months, and we get a good cleaning. The same thing goes for dogs. For toothbrushing at home to be effective, you need to do it twice a day. I tell people that if they can manage at least three days a week, that will do something. If you can't do it at all or your dog does not allow you to do it, some other things are also helpful. There are water additives that help prevent the attachment of that bacteria to the teeth. There are chews that your dog can chew on with enzymes that do the same. There are also wipes you can use with your finger to just brush over your dog's teeth. Again, for anything that you're going to choose to do at home, consistency is key. Unless you're doing tooth brushing twice a day, none of these will prevent all dental diseases. None of them are going to prevent your dog from needing dental cleaning. The goal is to help and delay the time when they do need that dental cleaning.

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

More often than not, there are no symptoms that you are going to notice at home. A lot of dogs have dental disease that goes undetected by their owner. Bad breath is the biggest symptom you will see or notice at home, which comes from the bacteria in the mouth. You might also notice that your dog is struggling to eat dry food. Although, I see some pretty severe dental diseases in dogs that eat just fine. That's what they're trained for and what they're made to do. They're made to not show pain and to be stoic. So don't rely on whether your dog looks painful or is eating to determine whether or not they have dental disease.

What are some common dental diseases in dogs?

We often use dental disease as an umbrella statement. What we're typically talking about, at the core of it, is bacteria. Bacteria comes into the dog's mouth pretty much all day long. You know what your dog eats, and it's not always pretty. So they have a lot of bacteria that then sit on their teeth and accumulate. It starts to form tartar, which builds up. That starts to form plaque, which is a thicker version of tartar. It's that fuzzy feeling you sometimes get on your teeth when you need to brush. The plaque then, over time, builds up, and it makes something called calculus, which is almost like a thick concrete on their teeth. The calculus can eat away at the tooth attachment, so we can have exposed tooth roots. It can go up into the root of the tooth and cause an abscess or just a generalized infection. It can cause gingivitis, which is inflammation of those gums, and that can be painful. Most things within the mouth, even tooth root exposure, will be painful, and it will be a source of chronic pain. So just think of yourself if you ever have a toothache. That's what some of these dogs experience on a daily basis. Other things that we can find in dogs' mouths include little tumors or even little benign growths. Some dogs also have an overgrowth of that gingival tissue that can cause problems.

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

As I just mentioned, it starts with the basics. It starts with that bacteria, plaque, and calculus. As that progresses, we get more and more problems and more pain. We get more things that are going to cause your dog other issues. So if we can get to it before that progression causes those issues, it will be better for your dog. They're going to have less pain, and they're going to, hopefully, have less need for extractions, and they can keep all their teeth. Overall, it's going to keep their health better. Just like any other thing, if we can get to it early before it causes more problems, it will always be a better idea.

How often should my dog's teeth be checked?

Ideally, every six months, especially in our older dogs that are going to be more prone to having problems. At a very minimum, once a year during their yearly exam appointment. Whenever your dog comes in for an appointment, whether it's for a yearly exam, vaccines, or it's a sick appointment, if they see a doctor at this hospital, they get an oral exam as well. So we are constantly checking, and we might have an unexpected conversation with you at some point if we detect signs of dental disease.

What is a professional dental cleaning like for a dog?

Unlike people, dogs aren't going to sit still for us to clean their teeth. Therefore, dogs do require general anesthesia for adequate dental cleaning. So your pet comes in, and they stay the day with us. We put in an IV catheter because that's how we administer medications; that's how we administer IV fluids. That's how we make the procedure safer. Then, we put them under anesthesia. Unlike some other hospitals, we do full mouth x-rays on all dogs undergoing a dental procedure. Just like if you were going to go to the dentist for your annual exam, they're going to do x-rays of all of your teeth. It tells us a lot about the health of their teeth, and it helps us detect many problems that we otherwise wouldn't see because they're hidden under that gum line. Once we have sorted through the x-rays and we've addressed any problematic teeth, the teeth are cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler, and then they're polished. Once everything is done, we will recover your pet. They stick around with us usually for a few hours to ensure they're fully awake from anesthesia before they go home.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (828) 697-0446, 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

Amanda Shoemake
Haywood Animal Hospital

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

They're just like us, so ideally, we want to brush them twice a day. Every time they eat, they're going to get bacteria in their mouth, but I tell people, it's just not feasible sometimes, and we understand that. If you're going to brush your dog's teeth, try to aim for at least three days a week. The more, the better, but a minimum of three days a week is needed to make a difference.

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

Yes, they make flavored toothpaste. It's easier to start with a puppy and get them used to it, but even older dogs can be taught new tricks. So don't give up if you have an older dog. Start with using just a little bit of the toothpaste on your finger, let them get used to that flavor, and let them enjoy it. Then, as each session continues, you'll do a little bit more and a little bit more. Once they're used to the toothpaste, use the toothbrush, and let them chew around on it. Don't try to brush, but just let them play with it. Put some toothpaste on it and let them lick it off. Let them get used to the idea, and then you'll start brushing. I typically just start with one side, upper and lower, for a session. Once they're done, praise them and tell them they were really good, and then come back a day or two later and try the other side. So start slow and be consistent.

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

They make toothpaste specifically for dogs. That toothpaste has everything safe for a dog to swallow because as hard as it is to get a dog to brush their teeth, it's really hard to get them to spit. So you don't want to use human toothpaste because they will swallow that, which can upset their stomach.

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

Toothbrushing is our gold standard for dental care at home. I use Greenies, treats, chews, and things like that in situations where you cannot brush your dog's teeth because the dog won't allow it or you just absolutely don't have the time, which I know none of us do. The next step would be to use treats and other things. Again, if you can brush their teeth, that's ideal.

Can dogs get cavities?

They can get cavities, but they don't typically happen as we get them. It's not very frequent that they get them, and it's even less frequent that we do a filling. However, that is something that can be done, but we don't worry as much about cavities in dogs as we do in people. They don't have the same sugar intake and things like that that really eat at that enamel. They do get other issues that need to be addressed, which can actually be worse than a cavity.

Are there any chew toys that you recommend that could also brush my dog's teeth?

There are dental chews. We have some here with enzymes that help prevent that bacteria from attaching, which starts the cycle of dental disease forming. So again, if you can't brush your dog's teeth, using these chews can sometimes be a good alternative. I hope this has given you a little bit of information about brushing your dog's teeth and what you can do at home. None of these things will make it to where we never have to clean your dog's teeth. Unfortunately, it's a fact of life, just like with us. We have to have our teeth cleaned to keep everything healthy.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (828) 697-0446, 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,