Dental Care and Tooth Eruption
Introduction: Dental hygiene is an
area often overlooked in many animals today. Just like humans, dogs have
problems with bad breath, tartar buildup, gingivitis, tooth decay, and cavities.
Many of these are very serious problems and may result in life threatening
disease. Prevention of dental disease is an important key to the healthy pet.
- Plaque - Dental plaque is defined as the soft, thin film of
food debris, saliva, and dead cells deposited on the teeth. Plaque
provides the perfect environment for various bacteria to grow. Daily
brushing of a petís teeth at home can help remove the constant buildup
Calculus - Dental calculus (also known as dental tartar) is
the hard, stone-like material, creamy yellow to black in color, which
results from mineralization of dental plaque. Calculus cannot be removed
by brushing; it must be removed with special equipment used in veterinary
clinics (and dentist offices), usually with the dog under general
This dog has
severe calculus that must be removed using hand tools and ultrasonic
equipment. This is performed while the dog is under anesthesia.
- Gingivitis - Gingivitis is a condition where the gums
surrounding the teeth are swollen, red, tender, and bleeding. Gingivitis
can result from many factors, but is usually caused by plaque and tartar
buildup on the surface of the tooth. Bacteria begin to invade dental
plaque as soon as it develops. When bacteria are present for about 1 week,
the gums become inflamed.
- Periodontitis - Periodontitis is a slowly progressive process
which causes tooth loss by destruction of the structures that support the
tooth. Chronic bacterial infections and gingivitis lead to periodontitis.
Structures destroyed in the process of periodontitis include the gums
(gingival tissue), connective tissue, and bone.
- Caries - Defined as an infection in the calcified portions of
the tooth, caries (cavities) are much more common in people than in dogs.
The lower occurrence of caries in dogs seems to be due to the cone shape
of the teeth and the higher pH (lower acidity) of dogís saliva as
compared to that of people. When caries do occur, they are most common in
the first molars.
Prevention: All of the above problems are best avoided when basic
preventative efforts are implemented.
- Diet - In general, dry dog foods are more effective in removing
plaque and some calculus than soft food types. Some special diets have been
formulated specifically to aid in plaque and calculus removal and are helpful
in maintaining proper oral hygiene. Rawhide chew toys and some biscuit treats
can also help remove plaque, although the plaque and calculus removal achieved
by any of these methods is incomplete.
- Tooth brushing - Daily brushing is
invaluable in removing plaque and preventing calculus buildup. The ideal
toothbrush for a dog should have soft bristles with rounded tip ends to
minimize abrasion of the teeth and injury to the gums. It is helpful to
introduce a pet to toothbrushing slowly. Gently pull back the lips to expose
the teeth. The dogís jaws should not be forced open as this tends to
increase apprehension and fear. At first, a finger can be used in place of a
brush. Once a toothbrush is used, it should be inserted against the teeth at
a 45-degree angle toward the gums. The brush is moved in small circular
motions while overlapping several teeth. The inside surfaces of the teeth
are more difficult to access; however, the motion of the tongue inside the
mouth reduces plaque on those surfaces.
demonstrates how to brush a smaller dogís teeth.
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- Toothpastes and oral rinses - Special toothpastes formulated for
dogs can be extremely effective in maintaining a healthy mouth, especially when combined with proper brushing. Many types of oral rinses can also be
helpful. A chemical known as chlorhexidine is currently considered the most
effective. Several products containing chlorhexidine are available for dogs.
Fluoride, common in human dental care programs, is to be used with caution in
dogs. Dogs tend to ingest the fluoride rinse or gel and may suffer fluoride
poisoning, which can be fatal.
- Veterinary care - An annual checkup by a veterinarian can help
determine if more aggressive measures need to be taken. Some animals require
a regular dental cleaning, performed under anesthesia. This involves using
hand tools and motorized equipment that remove calculus from the tooth
surface. The veterinarian may also fill cavities and polish or remove teeth.
Antibiotics may be used to help fight bacterial infections of the mouth.
dental equipment is used to remove calculus and polish the teeth.
Treatment: As previously mentioned,
many dogs require regular cleaning of their teeth. Gingivitis alone may be
managed in some cases with conservative therapy if the plaque and bacteria can
be removed. Conservative therapy consists of proper oral hygiene to remove
plaque and bacteria (daily brushing), antibiotics, and mouth washes.
Periodontitis, however, should always be treated aggressively. Complete scaling
and polishing of teeth under general anesthesia, possibly combined with oral
surgical methods of exposing and removing any pockets of infection next to the
roots of the teeth, may be necessary to properly treat periodontitis.
Tooth Eruption: All dogs have two sets of teeth. Baby or deciduous teeth
usually appear 2-8 weeks after birth and within 2-6 months these deciduous teeth
fall out and the permanent teeth erupt. The eruption of permanent teeth varies
according to the breed. By 10-12 months most dogs have a fully developed set of