What can I do to help look after my dog’s teeth?
What is dental disease?
Dental disease is very common in dogs – recent surveys show that it affects more than three-quarters of dogs over four years old.
It usually begins with a plaque deposit on the teeth (as with humans). This hardens to form tartar, which can be seen as a yellow-brown deposit on the tooth, beginning at the base of the tooth and gradually spreading to cover the entire tooth. As tartar forms it will spread beneath the gum line, allowing bacteria to encroach and cause an infection known as gingivitis.
If the infection travels deeper, into the area called the periodontal membrane (the ‘glue’ that holds the tooth in its socket) then the infection is termed periodontitis. Gingivitis is reversible, but periodontitis is not and usually requires the removal of the tooth.
What are the signs my dog might have a problem with their teeth?
The signs of dental disease include:
- Visible tartar
- Foul smelling breath
- Problems chewing (usually in later stages of dental disease, when it has already developed into a painful gingivitis)
- Gums that bleed easily
When dogs have problems chewing it leads to a vicious cycle where the affected teeth are not used to chew so they are not being cleaned and further tartar builds up. In advanced stages, dogs will find it impossible to eat and can often dribble constantly.
Just like us, dogs also may occasionally get rotten teeth (cavities).
What impact does dental disease have on health?
As well as the obvious pain and discomfort associated with dental disease, your dog’s immune system constantly fights infection and over time your dog can become run down. Infections can track into the gums causing painful root abscesses. As your dog chews, some bacteria will be released into the blood stream and this can affect the kidneys, heart and liver.
Recent surveys in older dogs suggest that chronic gum disease can reduce your dog’s lifespan by up to 2 or 3 years as a result.
What happens during a dental procedure at Heathfield Vets?
Antibiotics may be prescribed for a couple of days before the procedure, to allow them to build up in your dog’s system. These will then continue for several days afterwards to kill off all the infection in the gums.
On admission, your dog will be given a general anaesthetic. They are looked after by a dedicated vet and nurse while they are having the procedure done, and are monitored carefully afterwards.
During the procedure, an ultrasonic de-scaler is used to remove tartar from the teeth and a probe assesses whether gum disease extends down into the periodontal membrane. If periodontitis is present, the tooth will need to be extracted. Most teeth with cavities also need extraction, as do any that are broken or loose.
Due to the size of their roots, canines and molars may need to be surgically extracted. An incision will be made over the gum, some of the bone drilled away and the tooth extracted ‘sideways’. Any stitches will dissolve without the need for later removal. As an alternative to extraction we offer root canal treatment in suitable cases.
If we feel your dog is a suitable candidate we will discuss this, and relevant costs with you.
After your dog’s teeth have been scaled they will then be polished to leave a smooth surface, which will slow down the build up of plaque in the future.
What care can I give after a dental procedure?
You will be asked to bring your dog back for rechecks. The number of rechecks will depend on how many extractions and what type they were. For a de-scale and polish, usually only one recheck is needed. This is usually done with a nurse, who will also discuss caring for the teeth and what can be done at home to prevent a further dental procedure from taking place.
For dental procedures that require extractions, there will usually be two rechecks, although this does vary depending on your pet’s needs. This will also include a discussion with the nurse regarding caring for teeth and what can be done at home. We’re here to guide you through the process and to help, so this is the perfect chance to ask any questions you have too!
What do I need to do to book in for a dental procedure?
The majority of dental procedures are recommended during consult, either because your dog has come in with a dental problem or because it has been picked up through the course of another consultation. You can then book in at reception, where one of our friendly reception team will talk you through the process and arrange everything for you.
If we have not seen your dog before but you think they may need a dental procedure, just give us a call. We will book you a consultation with the vet who will assess the teeth and try to give an indication of what procedure will be needed.
The grading given at this time is valid for three months – if the dental procedure is not carried out in that time, then we will need to see them again. The reason for this is that dental disease is progressive, and there can be big changes to their dental health in this time.
How much does a dental procedure cost?
Dental procedures are particularly difficult to estimate costs for as dogs need to be under anaesthetic for a full assessment to be undertaken, particularly to establish whether or not they need extractions. The vet will assess the teeth in consult to give an estimate of costs and to check for any obvious dental damage. This is also the time for the vet to do a health check to make sure your dog is healthy and able to undergo the anaesthetic.
On the day of the dental procedure, once they are anaesthetised, the vet will assess the mouth and depending on what is found, contact you to discuss what the additional costs will be, as long as you are reachable by telephone.
- Costs for uncomplicated dental procedures include pre-medication, general anaesthetic, de-scaling and polishing.
- As many dogs with dental disease fall into the ‘senior’ age range we would always advise a blood test before the anaesthetic to rule out any liver or kidney problems, especially as these can be seen more commonly when gum disease is present.
- Costs of root canal work will be discussed with you if we feel your dog is a suitable candidate for this procedure.
Does my dog have to have an anaesthetic to have a dental procedure carried out?
Anaesthetic is always recommended when carrying out any dental procedure. To de-scale the teeth (remove the tarter build up) not just so the teeth look better but so that the root cause of the problem is addressed, the procedure involves working near the gum line.
To do this while your pet is awake can be very distressing for them, and if they move or wriggle (which they are likely to do if awake) the instruments used can cause damage to the gums, introducing or worsening the infection and causing greater discomfort to your pet.
Last updated December 2018.