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Dental Disease in Dogs
by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center




The adult canine mouth has forty-two teeth, ten more their human caretakers.  Proper dental care has been shown to extend, on average, the life of dogs studied by two years. Most people are not aware that their pets’ teeth have basically the same structure as ours.  The outside of the tooth is called the enamel.  This is a hard substance that protects the inner structures of the tooth.  Under the enamel is the dentin, which is more porous, sensitive, and contains dental tubules, structures susceptible to carrying bacteria to the pulp cavity if the enamel is breached.  The center of the tooth is the pulp cavity, which contains nerves and vascular structures.  The tooth is anchored into the bone of mouth by a ligament that is very strong and tough, called the periodontal ligament. 

When dogs chew food, they saliva in the mouth mixes with bacteria and forms a film on the surface of the tooth.  After about twenty four hours, if not brushed off, this film will form a more permanent layer, and these layers build over time and form what is commonly called tartar or calculus.  This calculus contains bacteria which then will irritate the sensitive pink tissue next to the crown of the tooth, called gingiva.  This leads to a condition called “gingivitis”, where you may notice a thin line of dark pink next to the yellowing or tartar on the tooth.  This is the beginning of dental disease.  At this point, the best option is to have a dental prophylaxis performed by your veterinarian.  Dental prophylaxis removes the tartar and bacteria from the tooth and polishes the enamel.  Future brushing after a dental will help prevent more tartar build up.  However, if you do not brush daily, then eventually the build-up will lead to more tartar on the enamel of the tooth.  Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to tartar build up.   Dental disease is noticed more often in small breeds because of several factors.  One of these is many smaller breeds and short-nosed breeds (brachycephalic) have a malocclusion, where the teeth do not line up properly as they should.  This unfortunately leads to faster tartar build-up because the top teeth do not cover the bottom. 

Many dogs will develop serious dental problems from a variety of factors.  Dogs that chew on hard substances, which many do, are prone to fracturing the side of the tooth, called a “slab fracture”.  This is very painful for the pet, because is usually extends into the root of the tooth.  Slab fractures may also lead to an abscess at the root of the tooth if not treated properly.  Many dogs do not show any symptoms of a fracture other than chewing on the opposite side of the mouth, slower chewing, and possible salivating slightly more than normal.

Calculus and tartar left untreated will lead to infections of the tooth roots and supporting structures, called periodontal disease.   You may notice exposed tooth roots, because of loosening of the periodontal ligament.  Teeth that are loose, that have exposed roots, deep pockets or abscesses should be extracted.  These teeth are very painful to your pet, are a source of infection, and are not useful for chewing.  In fact, once extracted and healed, dogs are much more comfortable. 

Optimum preventative care for your pet is to have their mouth examined at minimum yearly by your veterinarian and to brush with doggie-safe toothpaste as often as possible.   Many products are available to aid in dental care, such a greenies, CET chews and even dental dog food (Hill’s t/d), but brushing is best for your best friend.

 

Elizabeth Gigis, DVM
West Chester Veterinary Center
7330 Liberty Way, West Chester, OH 45069
www.wcvetcenter.com
513-755-2273