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5 Things Your Dog’s Dentist Wants You to Know

A veterinary dentist shares the crucial steps to ensure your dog keeps that toothy grin -- and lives...

As a veterinarian I wear many hats. I’m a jack-of-all trades, working with different species and in various areas of medicine, including internal medicine, surgery, radiology and dentistry. I rely on veterinary experts with extensive training in a focused area to help me stay up-to-date and provide the best care to my patients. Recently, I asked a veterinary dentist, Dr. Sharon Startup of Knoxville, Tenn., to tell me the five most important things dog owners can do to ensure their dog keeps a happy, healthy grin.

Here is Dr. Startup’s lineup:

1. Brushing. Dr. Startup admits this is perhaps the hardest thing to ask an owner to do, but brushing has a lasting positive effect and reduces oral disease significantly. “Plaque attaches quickly to the teeth, and the immune system immediately responds. This combination of bacteria and inflammation causes periodontal disease,” she says. Daily brushing helps reduce plaque load and prevents disease.

2. Look in your dog’s mouth regularly. An advantage to daily brushing is that you’ll already be looking in your dog’s mouth frequently -- which allows you to discover oral cancers, gum disease or fractured teeth early. If you don’t brush your dog’s teeth, make it habit to exam his or her mouth monthly, perhaps when you give him his monthly flea or heartworm prevention medications.

3. Professional cleaning. Dogs should have their first professional cleaning done before age 2. The timing for routine cleanings after that depends on how rapidly your dog develops plaque. Periodontal disease is caused by a buildup of plaque and bacteria in the mouth, and it has been directly linked to systemic disease in both humans and dogs. Therefore, routine cleanings keep your dog healthier and help him to live longer. Some owners are concerned that anesthesia is required for pet dental cleanings; however, it’s much safer to anesthetize a healthy dog than a dog with heart and kidney disorders caused by periodontal disease. Most clinics use sophisticated monitoring equipment -- the same used for human anesthesia. This helps to maintain the highest level of anesthetic safety.

4. Dental x-rays. Dental x-rays help veterinarians know what’s going on under the gum line. The crown of the tooth only represents half of the picture. If you only clean the crown of a tooth and don’t address tooth root disease, your dog will continue to have progressive periodontal disease and tooth loss. “If your veterinarian does not have dental x-ray, get the x-rays done elsewhere and sent to your veterinarian,” says Startup. “X-rays should be done every few years so your veterinarian can properly treat your dog.”

5. Address orthodontic issues early. Orthodontic problems, such as poorly aligned teeth, over and under bites, crooked teeth, and too many teeth in a small space, can lead to big problems like periodontal disease and tooth loss by age 5 or 6. Orthodontic care is common in dogs and can prevent oral disease and tooth loss.