Do Dogs Really Need Their Teeth Cleaned?

Keeping your dog's teeth clean is essential for his overall health.
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Regular dental care and cleanings are just as important for your dog as they are for you. A lack of regular tooth care can lead to other medical complications, such as heart and liver problems. Regular home cleaning can help reduce the need for frequent dental cleanings at the vet's office -- starting this care when your dog is just a puppy is essential to reduce the fear of a toothbrush.

Does My Dog Really Need a Cleaning?

Periodontal disease is common in dogs, and its treatment and prevention require regular dental cleaning with a veterinary specialist. While regular home dental care can reduce the need for frequent dental cleanings, most dogs will need at least one cleaning in their lifetimes. The frequency of these cleanings depends on your dental home care and other dental risks, such as age and breed.

When Does My Dog Need a Cleaning and Why?

As your dog eats, food particles and bacteria are left behind in the spaces of the teeth. If you do not regularly remove these particles, plaque will build up on the teeth, typically along the gum line. If this plaque remains, it interacts with the minerals in your dog’s saliva and turns into calculus, or tartar. Tartar along the gum line leads to gum irritation, which causes inflammation and bleeding. Untreated, tartar creates pockets along the gum line that give food and bacteria more spaces to deposit, leading to periodontal disease. As your dog ages, his risk for dental complications increase, especially if regular dental care and cleanings have not been a part of his regular care. In addition, many small breeds and pug-nosed breeds, such as poodles, Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, pugs and Boston terriers, are at an increased risk of developing dental disease.

Keeping the Teeth Clean and Reducing Cleanings

Canine dental care begins with food. Soft foods tend to promote dental disease while hard crunchy food helps to reduce plaque buildup and even helps remove plaque as your dog chews. Regular brushing at home with a canine toothbrush and toothpaste helps to keep the teeth clean and reduces the risk of buildup. The ASPCA recommends daily cleanings, or at least a few times a week. With regular home dental care, you may be able to reduce the frequency or need for veterinary dental cleanings, according to the American Veterinary Dental College. If you notice buildup that you are unable to remove with a toothbrush, or that your dog’s gums are bleeding, a veterinary cleaning is essential to reduce the risk of dental complications.

The Doggie Dentist

If you dog shows signs of periodontal disease, such as a yellowish brown buildup along the gum lines that home care is unable to remove, broken or loose teeth, trouble eating or mouth pain, it is time to schedule a cleaning with the veterinarian. When your dog goes in for his dental treatment, he will go under anesthesia so the veterinarian can manually remove the buildup and, if necessary, any damaged teeth. Often, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or pain medications to administer after the dental cleaning. After a veterinary cleaning, home care is essential to reduce the recurrence of dental problems and tartar buildup.

Complications Beyond the Mouth

Dental disease, untreated, can lead to complications throughout the body. When teeth become damaged, they can require removal from a veterinarian, making eating more difficult for your dog. In addition to loose teeth, periodontal disease can cause bone loss in the jawbone. As bacteria grow in the pockets created by periodontal disease, they can spread to other areas of the body. If bacteria spread to the heart, they can cause endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart’s inner lining. This can lead to stroke or heart failure. Those same bacteria can also spread to the liver or kidneys, resulting in infections.