Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

Brushing Dog's Teeth at Home

It’s extremely important to regularly care for your dog’s teeth at home in between veterinary dental care.

Imagine going days, weeks, months or even years without brushing your teeth – bad breath would be only the beginning of the problems. With the amounts of bacteria and infection, your mouth would be in a serious state of disease and you’d likely be in a significant amount of pain. Your dog’s mouth is no different and if you’re not currently brushing your dog’s teeth – it’s time to start.

Wisconsin Veterinary Dentist, Dale Kressin, DVM, AVDC, says, “Research in veterinary medicine has shown that periodontal disease can spread to the heart, kidney and liver and create significant problems.” See more about Dr. Kressin’s home pet dental care recommendations.

“At home dental care is important to maintain your dog’s overall good oral health,” says Washington Veterinary Dentist, Allen Matson, DVM, AVDC. At Eastside Veterinary Dentistry, their staff also provides one-on-one pet dental homecare demonstrations to their clients.

California Veterinary Dentist, Brook Niemiec, DVM, AVDC, stresses the importance of home dental care in preventing and treating periodontal disease. “Next to professional veterinary dental cleanings, the most important aspect is home care. This will greatly increase the periodontal health of your dog, as well as decrease the frequency of professional cleanings.

Arizona Veterinary Dentist, Chris Visser, DVM, AVDC stresses the importance of any homecare efforts, “There are several home care oral hygiene options from which to choose, but keep in mind that anything you can do to help prevent plaque and tartar accumulation will pay big dividends.” Here you can see commonly used options for home oral hygiene that have been proven to be of benefit for dogs.

“The more dental care you can do at home for your dog, the less that will have to be done by a veterinarian,” says Tony Woodward, DVM, AVDC. “Frequently the best approach is to combine several methods of control to achieve best results with dog home dental care.

According Tampa Bay Veterinary Dentist, Michael Peak, DVM, AVDC it’s important to remember that, “animals have no special ability to resist dental disease.” There is a common misconception among many people that animals mouths are different than our own and that they fight off dental disease on their own.  Dr. Peak offers an excellent resource of steps for dog dental home care.

Chew toys may be a benefit in reducing tartar build up, but Houston Veterinary Dentist, Robert Boyd, DVM, AVDC urges dog owners to, “be careful when selecting chew toys for dogs because some objects that are too hard can cause broken teeth. Only if the toy can be bent or dented, is it safe for a dog to chew.”

When choosing dental health products for your dogs, Virginia Veterinary Dentist, Thomas Chamberlain, DVM, AVDC recommends looking at for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council so you are certain they are safe and effective dental health products for your dog.

Watch a video about how to brush your dog’s teeth at home.

Root Canal vs. Extraction of Dog or Cat Teeth

Broken Dog Tooth Needing Root Canal - Veterinary Dentistry

A broken dog tooth needing endodontic or root canal therapy.

Pet owners are often unaware that in some cases they have the option to choose veterinary endodontic treatment (root canal) as opposed to an extraction of a broken or dead tooth. This may sound strange and not necessary for a pet, but there are some things you might want to consider before opting to have a dog or cat’s tooth extracted without further evaluation from a veterinary dental specialist.

  1. Some teeth are more important including the pre-molars, back molars and canine teeth. Pre-molars and molars are very deeply rooted and extraction is painful as the roots must be extracted from the bone. The canine teeth are also extremely important and extraction of these may compromise the jaw bone or weaken nasal structure.
  2. Teeth are vital in your pet’s ability to chew effectively. When important chewing teeth are extracted the teeth don’t work together for both chewing and cleansing, which significantly increases the chances for future periodontal disease.
  3. Certain upper canine extractions may lead to the lip folding over the gum line, which in turn may be traumatized by the lower teeth hitting the lip while chewing.
  4. Certain teeth may have an abnormal root structure (dilaceration). This makes an extraction very difficult with potential complications from root fracture, inability to remove root tips, bone fracture and excessive bleeding.
  5. Excessive bleeding, root fracture, jaw fracture and lip trapping are all possible complications of extraction, especially for certain deep rooted teeth.
Radiograph x-ray of dog root canal - vet dentistry

Radiograph (X-ray) of endontic files in dogs tooth to prepare for fillings.

What does a root canal on a dog or cat involve? In short, one to two small holes are drilled in the tooth, infected pulp (nerves and vessels within the tooth) is removed, the inside of the tooth is cleaned, and filled with material that won’t support bacterial growth (infection).  The final step is the placement of a filling to prevent bacteria from entering the treated tooth. Following the root canal, a crown may be recommended to strengthen the treated tooth.

Pet root canals are not always recommended and there are certainly cases where an extraction is the optimal treatment for a particular dog’s or cat’s tooth. However, the only way to adequately assess the dead or broken tooth is with dental radiographs (x-rays). This provides a complete picture of both the tooth as well as the root and bone structure. Without an x-ray, a veterinarian would have no idea what lies below the tooth and to proceed with an extraction leaves the door open for numerous complications and costs to the pet owner.

Dr. Tony Woodward, DVM, AVDC discusses root canals in pets.

Expense is always a consideration, however, a root canal may not be much more cost than a surgical extraction of a tooth particularly in the case of larger teeth or those with complicated root structures. In addition, preservation of your pet’s tooth may prevent costs related to future periodontal disease or bone loss. A veterinary dentist will be able to provide you a thorough exam and detailed treatment plan with explanation of costs involved.

Root canal treatments are very successful and many times a far better solution than an extraction, which can be painful to the pet and involve significant bone loss. Board certified veterinary dentists have performed thousands of root canals on dogs, cats and even exotic animals. You can count on knowing that they will provide an accurate assessment and discuss your pet’s individual situation and whether saving the tooth with root canal therapy is an option.

Ask your local board certified veterinary dentist about root canal options for your dog or cat:


Lending a hand to provide service dog oral health exams

During the month of August our group of Board Certified Veterinary Dentists was proud to provide free oral health exams to service dogs through a program sponsored by the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). Through this program service dogs received oral health exams to help identify any areas of painful oral disease and the dog owners were given important information regarding proper oral care and education for preventing oral disease and keeping their service dog’s mouth healthy and pain free.

Service dogs work in a variety of areas as partners to owners who may have medical disabilities as well as working in public service providing important and unique services to military, police and search and rescue organizations. It is vital that these dogs are in top health and don’t have painful oral disease that not only is uncomfortable, but also could impact their ability to serve their owners.

Boomer Wisconsin Service Dog

Boomer demonstrates his skills & the important part his mouth plays in his job.

In Wisconsin, Dr. Dale Kressin works with police officer Eric and his partner Boomer. Boomer did a demonstration for an event and as you can see, his mouth needs to be in the best condition for him to perform his job. Boomer has had multiple teeth treated for fractures which have kept him pain free and in top condition.

Dr. Tony Woodward provided a number of exams at his office in Colorado and in addition to recommending the routine oral care owners should talk with their regular veterinarians about, he was also able to teach them how to provide preventative care at home and things to watch for that could be their service dog may need to be seen at by a vet dentist.

TJ Police Service Dog Oral Health

TJ gets a high five for passing his oral health exam.

Dr. Woodward also had the pleasure of giving TJ, a Colorado Springs Police Dog a clean bill of oral health after his exam. TJ was the only service dog who passed his oral health exam with flying colors and thanks to excellent care by TJ’s partner, had no signs of dental disease.

Rugby Service Dog Oral Health Exam

Rugby gets his oral health exam.

A hearing dog named Rugby visited Dr. Brook Niemiec in San Diego. In addition to the exam, Dr. Niemiec used Orastrip test strips to test the level of dental disease in Rugby’s mouth. The strips are not a replacement for a dental exam, but measure the level of bacteria that can cause periodontal disease in the dog’s mouth. Rugby’s teeth looked good and also had a low level of bacteria on the orastrip test which gave his owners peace of mind.

Zoe Service Dog Oral Health Exam

Zoe is a hospice service dog.

This is Zoe, a service dog who provides pet therapy to hospice patients. Dr. Chris Visser provided Zoe’s free exam among others to a variety of service dogs in Arizona. Dr. Michael Peak also provided free exams to a number of Florida service dogs.

It’s really amazing the work these dogs are trained to provide and as veterinary dental specialists, we want to be sure their owners are aware of the importance of maintaining the dog’s oral and dental health.




Vet Dental Update – 8/15/2012

Effect of veterinarian-client-patient interactions on client adherence to dentistry and surgery recommendations in companion-animal practice.
Kanji N, Coe JB, Adams CL, Shaw JR. JAVMA. 240(4):427-36, 2012.
Abstract: This study examined client/veterinarian interactions, looking specifically at the language used when recommending dental or surgical treatment and how this effected whether or not the recommended treatment was eventually provided to the patient. The participating veterinarians were videotaped during 83 interactions with their clients, and their treatment recommendations were graded as being either clear or ambiguous. Patient records were examined six months later to see if the patient had received the recommended procedure. When a recommendation was made in a “clear” fashion, the patient was seven times more likely to have received the recommended procedure. Additionally, the clients who pursued treatment for their pet were much more satisfied with the process than those who did not. Practitioners should strive to use clear statements such as “your pet needs a dental cleaning and dental x-rays” rather than an ambiguous statement like “You might want to consider a dental cleaning for your pet”.

Effectiveness of a Vegetable Chew on Periodontal Disease Parameters in Toy Breed Dogs
Clarke DE, Kelman M, Perkins N. J Vet Dent. 28(4): 230-235, 2011
Abstract: Plaque control is an important part to maintaining proper oral health. Many clients are not able to properly brush the teeth of Toy breed dogs. This study demonstrated the effectiveness of a vegetable based chew in reducing gingivitis, plaque, and calculus. The study was a 70-day crossover study with controls. Although daily brushing and regular professional cleanings are still the gold standard in toy breeds, this study provides another method of improving oral health in pets.

Bonded sealants for uncomplicated crown fractures.
Theuns P, Niemiec BA. J Vet Dent.28(2):130-2, 2011.
Fractured teeth are a very common occurrence in dogs. When the root canal is directly exposed, root canal therapy or extraction is necessary. Uncomplicated crown fractures are defined as tooth fractures which expose the dentin, but not the pulp (root canal/nerve). This creates sensitivity as well as allows a route for bacterial entry into the tooth, possibly causing abscessation. A bonded sealant is a simple procedure to treat this common condition and relieve sensitivity. This article details the indications (and contraindications), materials and techniques for this procedure. This is a must for every general practitioner.

Amlodipine-induced gingival hyperplasia in a Great Dane.
Pariser MS, Berdoulay P. JAAHA. 47(5):375-6, 2011
Abstract: Gingival enlargement or gingival overgrowth (also known as gingival hyperplasia) is a condition where the gingiva grows excessively. Gingival enlargement can create pseudopockets where plaque can accumulate, possibly resulting in periodontal disease. Frequently this condition is diagnosed as idiopathic where no underlying cause can be found. The boxer breed one of the more common breeds affected. Typically the condition is treated by gingivectomy and gingival recontouring as needed. However, there can be underlying causes that can create gingival enlargement. In this case, a 3 year old spayed female Great Dane developed gingival enlargement after treatment of systemic hypertension was treated with amlodipine. Hydralazine replaced amlodipine for treatment of hypertension and the gingival enlargement was mostly resolved in 9 months. Other drugs that have been implicated in gingival enlargement are cyclosporine and some anti-convulsants. Therefore, after diagnosis of gingival enlargement, a careful history should be taken to determine if a medication may be the cause of the condition.

The Truth About Anesthesia Free Pet Dental Cleanings

A pet dental cleaning that doesn’t require anesthesia – it’s a new fad and may sound like a great solution for pet owners who are nervous about their pet going under anesthesia, plus it seems like a cheaper option. But, before a pet owner chooses an anesthesia free cleaning, they might want to consider that taking your dog to have their teeth cleaned by a someone who is not a veterinarian, would be like us having our teeth cleaned by someone who isn’t a dentist.

Dr. Tony Woodward, DVM, AVDC discusses pet anesthesic safety.

A complete dog or cat dental cleaning is a multi-step process including, oral exam, veterinary dental x-rays, cleaning below the gum line, scaling plaque from teeth and identifying potential painful problems in your pet’s mouth. Imagine how afraid and upset you might be if you were restrained while someone did all of this to you and you had no idea what was going on and couldn’t speak up if it hurt. Then, consider that the necessary cleaning under the gum line where pet periodontal disease begins can’t be accomplished with an anesthesia free cleaning. The anesthesia free cleanings also leave a very rough surface on a pet’s tooth which actually promotes bacteria growth and future dental disease.

Dr. Chris Visser, DVM, AVDC discusses safe anesthesia for pet dental cleanings.

Anesthesia free pet dentistry is not really dentistry at all. No medical benefits are provided to the pet and periodontal disease progresses in the dog or cat’s mouth at the same pace it normally does.  In addition, it wastes the clients’ money so they cannot afford to have a proper dental procedure done. The biggest issue, however, is that it gives the client a false sense of security that their pet has had proper dental care. However, when dental disease or painful conditions are properly identified during a veterinary dental cleaning, there are a number of treatments a veterinary dentist can employ to correct them early on before causing more extensive and expensive damage. 

It’s understandable that people are afraid to put their put under anesthesia, but the very minimal risk associated with pet anesthesia, are miniscule when compared with the risks of untreated periodontal disease and pain in your pet’s mouth. Appropriately administered general pet anesthesia is extremely low risk for the pet patient, as a result of a combination of pre-anesthetic tests (including blood tests), use of modern anesthetic agents, local anesthetic blocks (which minimizes the depth of general anesthesia required), plus modern anesthetic monitoring equipment. Many pets are awake and standing within 15-20 minutes of completion of the procedure and go home the same day.

What is Feline Stomatitis?

Feline stomatitis is severe inflammation or ulceration in the cat’s mouth, and is debilitating for affected cats. Signs of feline stomatitis include very bad breath, difficulty eating (or not eating at all) and drooling. Some cats will have large areas of their oral cavity covered with painful, raw areas.

If you see signs of feline stomatitis, you should contact a veterinary dentist as soon as possible. Although you may find a number of medical solutions on the internet for feline stomatitis, unfortunately there have not been any encouraging results for non-surgical treatments. The best treatment for feline stomatitis is extraction of all of the cat’s teeth. While this may sound extreme, cats with feline stomatitis are in a great deal of pain. After extraction, cats are pain free, much happier and often eat a meal shortly after waking up from surgery.


What to do about dog bad breath

To effectively get rid of or reduce dog bad breath be sure your dog had regular veterinary dental care.

Dogs with bad breath can keep you from being close to the dogs you love. Halitosis, or bad breath, is an unpleasant odor coming from your dog’s mouth. But bad dog breath can also be a symptom of a more serious problem.  It is estimated that 80 percent of dogs the age of three suffer from periodontal disease — a serious deterioration of the gums  and supporting bones of the teeth.

Left unchecked, the resulting bacteria can enter the dog’s  bloodstream, causing infection or damage to vital organs such as  the kidneys, lungs, heart or liver. That’s why dog bad breath has been the called the “Silent Killer of Pets.”  Proper pet oral health and veterinary dental care from your veterinarian or a vet dentist a may extend the life of your dog by two to five years.

Usually Bad Breath or Halitosis in dogs as well as cats has oral causes, although sometimes it can be caused by other disease processes. These include:

  • Periodontitis (inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the tooth)
  • Periodontal or gum disease caused by the buildup of plaque and tartar
  • Abscessed tooth or teeth
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Bone, skin or hair stuck in mouth
  • Oral ulceration
  • Foreign items in the mouth (such as plant material or grass awns)
  • Oral neoplasia (tumors of the mouth)
  • Lung diseases,i.e. lung cancer
  • Severe kidney or liver disease

Can you repair a broken tooth for my dog?

Dog’s teeth can break for a variety of reasons, often from chewing on a bone or toy that’s too hard. Broken dog teeth are not uncommon, so in addition to regularly brushing dog’s teeth, dog owners should also check for any visible signs of a tooth that’s broken. Broken teeth are very painful for dogs. Although an owner might never realize their dog is in severe pain, as dogs rarely demonstrate pain.

If a dog has a broken tooth there are definately options to repair it and relieve the pain your dog is experiencing due to the fractured tooth and potentially exposed pulp or dentin. The first step in treating a fractured dog’s tooth is to perform dental radiographs or x-rays, which will identify the extent of the fracture and allow the veterinary dentist to determine the proper treatment. Treatment for a dog’s fractured tooth may involve sealing, root canal therapy or extraction.

Visiting a board certified veterinary dentist for a dog’s fractured tooth will assure you and your dog that they are recieving the best possible evaluation and treatment so the fracture can be properly repaired and your pet’s pain will be relieved.

Learn more about pet tooth fractures from a veterinary dentist near you: