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.

Dental Terms:

  1. 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 of plaque.

  2. 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 anesthesia.

    This dog has severe calculus that must be removed using hand tools and ultrasonic equipment. This is performed while the dog is under anesthesia.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

All of the above problems are best avoided when basic preventative efforts are implemented.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

This demonstrates how to brush a smaller dogís teeth.


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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Motorized 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 permanent teeth.