Healthy Chompers–Cleaning Your Dog’s Teeth Is a Must
Have you brushed your dog’s teeth today? The few times I tried it with my Labs, they ate the toothpaste and wouldn’t let me get the brush in. Epic fail.
Whether you brush, give them dental chews, or pay a visit your vet, the need for dental cleaning goes beyond Fido’s bad breath. Gum disease, tooth decay and loss, and infections when left untreated could cause health problems in their heart, liver, and kidneys.
So what can you expect from a professional cleaning? Your veterinarian will do an oral exam during a regular check-up to get an idea if something needs attention. Even if a tooth looks good, there still might be an underlying problem. For a thorough cleaning, they are put under anesthesia in which each tooth is examined, scaled ultrasonically, and polished. Radiographs, much like we see at the dentist, provide an image below the gum line. There could be a tumor, the need for a root canal, or tooth extraction.
Robert Baratt, DVM, who practices in Salem, Connecticut, is a certified American Veterinary Dental College specialist in the state. He said bad breath is an early sign something could be wrong. “A healthy mouth doesn’t smell all that bad. Diseased teeth smell like a septic tank,” he explains. “Pet owners will put up with bad breath if they’re eating and not showing any signs of pain so they think everything’s O.K. But the animal is really just coping. Dogs suffer in silence.”
Some of the telltale signs that your dog may have dental issues besides bad breath are visible tartar, trouble chewing, excessive drooling particularly on one side if there is a problem tooth, lip smacking, pawing at their face because it hurts, or they may be lethargic.
Wendy Daly, DVM, from the Community Veterinary Clinic on Fairfield Woods Road, agreed with Baratt that owners don’t realize what kind of pain their dog may be in. “I had a Dachshund who had a teeth cleaning and an extraction,” she remarks. “About a week later, the dog’s owner said to me, ’Wow, I had no idea how unhappy my dog was. It’s like having a new dog!”
It is estimated that about 70 percent to 80 percent of pets have periodontal disease, which is the most prevalent issue veterinarians see in clinical visits. As Baratt pointed out, it’s preventable and worth the investment in your pet.
But some owners balk at the expense and opt for pet insurance. While that may cover dental repairs or other surgical removal, it doesn’t cover cleanings. Amy Kaplan, owner of a Chihuahua and a Papillon-Cavalier mix, has pet insurance that kicks in half the cost. But that’s only for extractions. Both dogs were rescued and came to her with bad teeth. Her Chihuahua only has seven teeth and the Papillon-Cavalier had gray teeth due to poor nutrition. She pays upwards of $600 for a cleaning. But as far as she’s concerned, it’s necessary. “You go to the dentist yourself, right? Why not your dog?” she explains. “It’s just common sense. It’s part of being a dog owner.”
Julie Moffat paid more than that two years ago for her two Westies. She said it was prohibitively expensive at $800 per dog with bloodwork, anesthesia, and antibiotics. She has been looking for an alternative since then. “I spent time calling around for prices. There’s definitely a range,” she says. “Vets often have a discount for cleaning in the winter.”
Other owners have turned to specialists who don’t use anesthesia and hand scrape the teeth. That’s what Tania Dimyan does for her labradoodle. “I asked my groomer for a suggestion and he referred me to someone who hand scrapes,” she says. “I think it’s about $100 to $150 per cleaning and they come to your house every six months. They also give you stuff to brush with.”
Dr. Daly said sometimes you can scrape the plaque off your dog’s teeth, but that method isn’t completely effective. She says for the really thick stuff a professional cleaning is necessary.
“You have to put them under anesthesia to get a really good cleaning. You can’t do a good job with the whole mouth,” she explained. “When they’re awake, they can move their heads around and it’s difficult to get every tooth.”
Every pup is different. Your dog might only need a professional cleaning once or twice. Or, your dog may be prone to dental disease and needs a cleaning every one to two years. Either way, the earlier you introduce your pets to teeth cleaning, the better.
Stinky Breath – Dogs aren’t supposed to naturally have a bad mouth smell, and vets say it’s a sure sign that they may have dental problems. Vets advise start brushing early in a dogs life.