February is National Pet Dental Health Month

Commentary on this topic is provided by
Linda Lewiston, DVM
As Good as Gold Health Education Coordinator

How do I know if my golden has dental disease?  The following is a list of signs to look for and if noted should be addressed.

  1. Bad breath
  2. Broken teeth
  3. Excessive drooling
  4. Reluctance to eat or chew on toys
  5. Favoring one side of the mouth
  6. Pawing at or rubbing the mouth
  7. Bleeding from the mouth
  8. Loss of symmetry of the lower jaw
  9. Swollen under the eye
  10. Sudden change in behavior (aggressive or withdrawn)
  11. Inability to open or close the mouth
  12. Chronic sneezing
  13. Discolored teeth
  14. Abnormal discharge from the nose
  15. A mass in the mouth

If any of these signs are noted, your golden should be evaluated by a veterinarian.  Most likely, your veterinarian will recommend anesthesia, dental x-rays, and a dental cleaning.  Dental x-rays can determine if there is dental disease under the gum line.  When dental disease is noted, that tooth or teeth may need to be extracted.  Dental disease can be very painful for your golden and could lead to other health problems such as liver disease and heart disease.

How do I prevent dental disease?

Regular professional cleanings are very important.  Home care is never perfect so periodically tartar should be properly removed, and the tooth surface polished and disinfected.  Periodontal pockets are probed to assess for periodontal disease. It is important to note that non-anesthetic teeth cleaning is not comparable to a professional cleaning. It is not possible to perform the multi-step cleaning on a dog without general anesthesia.

Home Brushing

It is important to brush your dog’s teeth at home.  There are several kinds of toothbrushes that can be used on dogs.  Find the one that works for you and your dog.  Never use human toothpaste for your dog.  Animal toothpaste comes in special flavors that are tasty for your dog.  Animal toothpaste can be swallowed but human toothpaste cannot.  Studies have shown that brushing three times a week was adequate to maintain healthy teeth and gums, but daily brushing was needed to control existing gingivitis.

Dental Treats

Brushing daily is difficult to accomplish in our busy lives.  Giving your dog dental treats can help between brushing.  Dental chews must be the proper size for the dog to avoid a choking hazard.  Dental treats must be used daily to have much benefit.

Dental Diets

There is a common misconception that feeding a kibble based diet will protect the teeth from dental disease.  Most dogs swallow the kibble whole and do not chew it.  Dental diets are usually larger kibble to encourage the dog to chew them before swallowing. These diets are high in fiber which means the kibbles do not shatter when chewed but instead the tooth sinks into the kibble allowing plaque to be essentially scrubbed away.

Toys and Chews

There is a Kong dental stick that can be helpful for dogs.  It is a reusable rubber toy.  The toy can be filled with canned food and frozen.  When the dog chews on the toy, there are scrapers built into the rubber that can help removed plaque.

Cow hooves and bones are not appropriate for dogs.  They are too hard and readily break teeth.

Always look for products that have the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval.  These products have been evaluated by the council and found to help with plaque and tartar control.

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