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

The best answer to this question is to think about your own dental care, self-care, and self-love. Can you imagine if you had sore teeth all the time? Imagine you had a toothache or tooth abscess, and you know about it, but maybe nobody else does. Can you imagine the misery you must be in? Think about your own dog. They can't tell you if they have a dental problem, but we can often lift their lip and see a lot of tarter. We can see gum infection and smell that horrendous breath. Sometimes your dog has difficulty eating, and they might be drooling when they eat. You can imagine how sore teeth or gums might impact your dog's health and wellbeing.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

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

It's best to start when they're young, if you can, with brushing. Think about what it's like with people. Occasionally, once, maybe twice a year, we'll go to the dentist and have our teeth cleaned, even though most of us brush our teeth once or twice a day every day. Yet, we still feel the need to go to a dentist once or twice a year for routine maintenance and deeper cleaning that we can't do with brushing. So we still find that, at home, the gold standard for people is brushing. How many of you out there are actually brushing your dog's teeth? I do not see too many hands out there. We rarely get a client who's brushing. We can tell the difference when somebody does bring a dog in who is brushing their dog's teeth. But the earlier you start, the better your chances of success. We are going to be getting more into the mechanics of how to brush their teeth in just a short while.

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

The biggest thing is lack of appetite because it's just so painful for them to eat. They might get a bit snippy if you try to get around their face. Ordinarily, they may not be just because they're just so painful, and they don't want you to touch them around that area. Horrendous breath is a sign in many cases. You can just get within a zip code of them and smell their breath. It is just so horrendous. Those are the primary ways because they just can't tell you if their teeth hurt or if their mouth hurts. Sometimes dogs, because they're hurting so much, and cats too, won't eat well. They'll gradually start to lose weight because it hurts too much for them even to chew. Sometimes they'll just kind of swallow the food best they can. That's the alternative if their teeth are hurting too much for them to chew.

What are some of the common dental diseases in dogs?

I'm going to start from the outside. First, it's going to be what we call gingivitis. Gingivitis is a gum infection. Sometimes you can lift your pet's lip, and instead of seeing a nice pink color, it's red. It really looks like it's on fire. It might be just around the gum line and a little above it. That's what we call gingivitis. Next would be periodontal disease. Periodontal disease involves the roots of the teeth more. Think about when you go to the dentist, and they take a little probe. They're looking for little pockets with some separation between the gums and the teeth. We do the same thing when we do dentals and dogs. We're trying to get a sense of just how much periodontal disease or how much separation of the tooth root structure there is between the root and the gums because that tells us there's an active disease going on.

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

We're trying to prevent the problems down the line, such as periodontal disease and gingivitis and the pain that's associated with it, because that's going to have such a huge impact on the quality of your pet's life.

How often should my dog's teeth be checked?

If you go to your full-service veterinarian and they're doing a complete examination, one of the standards of any exam is to look in the mouth the best we can. Some dogs are not cooperative in that way, but we can always at least find a way to look at the gums and the outer portion of the teeth, even if we can't get into your dog or cat's mouth to see what's happening on the inside. The key thing is to have that evaluation, that annual visit where they can look and see what your pet's oral cavity, mouth, teeth, gums, and tongue, look like.

What is a professional dental cleaning like for a dog?

Good question. We're speaking of dogs, but I also want to make sure that we include cats in this conversation. Quite simply, if they're going to have a dental cleaning, it will have to be done under anesthesia. Unfortunately, there's no dog or no cat that's going to cooperate and sit there and let us use the same tools that we use on the human side. We use the exact same type of equipment for dogs and cats as we use for people. If you were sitting in your dentist's chair and were there for 45 minutes up to about an hour, can you imagine your dog or cat still being that for an hour? No, it's not going to happen, period. They do have to be anesthetized for an appropriate and thorough dental cleaning. The difference it makes in cleaning up all that nasty bacteria, debris, plaque, and tarter can have a huge impact on many of these dogs and cats. Every full-service veterinarian is going to be in a situation where they will do dental cleanings on your dogs and cats. I will bring to your attention that some, not all, but some spay and neuter clinics also do dental cleanings. They don't do extensive dental care, but they will do dental cleaning. They can be doing the procedure for considerably less than what you would pay your full-service clinic. Of course, your pets are anesthetized as they would be with a full-service clinic. So give that consideration. If you want to get some dental care done on your pet, at least consider going to a local spay and neuter clinic if they offer that service.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Dental Care - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

Good question. Ideally, every day. We realize that could be a challenge for some pet owners and also some pets, but every day would be ideal. Think about it, the gold standard for people is still brushing their teeth daily. Most people do it twice a day, morning and evening. If you can do it every day with your pet, awesome. At the bare minimum, to really be effective, we need to do it at least every other day. Here's the reason. If you ever went to bed one night and forgot to brush your teeth and woke up the next morning, your teeth feel a bit mossy, as my dentist used to describe back when I was a kid. That is plaque. It's actually bacteria that are forming on the teeth. We know that in dogs, the plaque takes about two days to really adhere to the teeth. So if you're brushing at least every other day, you're going to be able to stay ahead of that plaque formation and the plaque sticking to the teeth fairly effectively. The plaque is what sticks to the teeth and builds and builds, then results in tarter after a while. If you can brush at least every other day, that's the bare minimum. But if you can do it daily, that's the gold standard.

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

Let's talk about some ways of trying to make it easier. In a perfect scenario, you'll always start when your dog is a puppy, preferably if you have a puppy, but you may not get a dog when it's a puppy. It would be ideal to start when they're young. You don't want to make it traumatic for them. You do want to do it so that you can make it a little more playful or fun. If you can, get some peanut butter or use canned cheese, which we use at our clinics, to give to dogs. If you can find something that you can try to reinforce, make it a positive experience for them, something they look forward to and enjoy, that's key number one. First, you want to make it an experience that they're not going to dread because if they dread it, you're also going to dread it. If you do it in a way where they're getting rewarded for participating, that will make it a better experience for you as well. That's key number one. The other consideration is that I always start with these little finger brushes. They're rubber, and they've got little rubber bristles on them. I'd consider them just for a starter purpose. That's not something you'll use on an ongoing basis because the bristles are too rubbery. You're not going to be able to effectively get the plaque off the teeth or remove it, which is the purpose of brushing in the first place. So consider it to be like little training wheels for a toothbrush.

Next, you also want to make sure you use pet toothpaste and not people toothpaste. People toothpaste has fluoride in it. When we brush our teeth, we brush our teeth, and we spit rinse. So we're getting all that material out of our mouths right after we brushed. With dogs, they're not going to rinse. We're not going to rinse their mouth typically, and they're not going to spit. So we don't want to use fluoride because fluoride, especially in a really small dog, if you did it regularly, could cause problems with fluoride toxicity. So you want to make sure you use dog toothpaste because it doesn't have fluoride in it. Again, find a time of day when you can do it consistently. Those are the key things. First, pick a rubber bristle finger brush, then get doggy toothpaste. They're typically flavored. You can find chicken flavor, and I'm sure you can find bacon, vanilla mint, and things like that. Get something that's palatable for them. Start there.

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

Honestly, I think of Greenies being more like a breath freshener than an actual dental cleaning product. There's no enzyme in there that's going to help remove the plaque that's building up on the teeth. I don't know if it still exists, but there used to be chlorophyll gum years ago. I don't know if it's still around or not, but chlorophyll is a breath freshener. That's where they get the color from; the chlorophyll. If you use Greenies, think of it as a breath freshener, not a teeth cleaner. We do have a product that's called Veggiedent, which are enzymatic cleaners. It's a chewable product, and that enzyme will help remove that plaque, which is the foundation of dental cleaning. The nice thing about Veggiedents is if your dog has a food allergy or an adverse food reaction when they eat chicken, beef, or dogs that have issues with lamb or pork, it won't be a problem because there's no meat in there that could create an adverse reaction.

Can dogs get cavities?

They can. Although it's very uncommon, they can get cavities. It's more common in cats. Cats are much more likely to get cavities than dogs.

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

Not effectively. However, I mentioned using Greenies, which are sometimes shaped like chew toys. But no, no chew toy can be effective for that. I will suggest rawhides, which can be beneficial. The same company that makes Veggiedents make a rawhide that's also enzyme-coded. That can be very beneficial because it's that chewing action that will help remove that plaque on the teeth. But you want to get an enzymatic cleaner. Chew toys don't have that. It's just a chew toy. So it's not going to help with the teeth.

Let me make this clear. This is my opportunity to rant about milk bones and milk bone-type treats. They do not help clean the teeth. A milk bone is not that much different from giving your dog kibble, and dog kibble is not designed to clean your dog's teeth. It's hard, but the way it works is that it just crushes. Many dogs just swallow it and don't even chew the food. It crushes on when they bite into it, and there's no way that will clean the teeth at all. So please, do not give your dog milk bones. They do not help keep the teeth clean. They add a lot of unwanted calories, which can be a big contributor to some of the obesity issues we see in dogs. If you're going to use something for your dog's teeth, either use Veggiedents that we have or use C.E.T. chews, which can be really effective. One last word about rawhides. I don't have any problems with people trying rawhides. Just make sure they're from North America and not Asia. If you look in the bag, you can quickly see if it's made in North America, Asia, or overseas. If it's made overseas, put it back on the shelf because there is potential for toxins in those particular products.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.