Canine Oral Health: Kiss that Bad Breath Goodbye

My dog’s breath is really bad, is there anything I can do to help? My vet suggested I schedule a dental, even though his teeth aren’t that bad, but I’m nervous to sedate him for such a quick procedure.
LC, Massachusetts

Dear LC,

Oral disease is the number one health problem in dogs, and it’s not just because plaque and tartar build-up can lead to bleeding gums, tooth loss and a painful mouth. Infected gums can spread bacteria throughout the body and contribute to heart disease, liver trouble and kidney dysfunction. An astounding 80% of dogs show signs of oral disease by age three, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society.

They recommend a three-pronged approach to preventing oral disease in dogs, which includes dental scaling under anesthesia as needed, regular veterinary oral exams, and home dental care. While I understand your concern about anesthetizing your dog, understand that veterinary dentists (unlike human dentists) can’t really do a thorough job of inspecting or cleaning a dog’s mouth while he’s awake or even sedated. And although general anesthesia always carries a risk, a pre-anesthetic work-up (physical exam, bloodwork, other tests as necessary) should identify any health problems in your dog that make anesthesia especially risky.

When your dog comes back from the vet with fresh-smelling breath, bright shiny teeth and, most importantly, healthy clean gums, it’s your job to keep him that way! The gold standard of home dental care in dogs is tooth brushing, performed daily if possible. Didn’t introduce this to your dog when he was a puppy? No problem, many grown dogs learn to tolerate, even enjoy, this bonding experience with their owner. Any toothbrush that is comfortable for both you and your dog will work, but be sure and use toothpaste specifically made for dogs since the ones for us may upset your dog’s stomach.

Besides taking your dog to your vet for regular oral exams so you can stay on top of oral disease, consider dental food, treats, chews or toys that are designed to help keep your dog’s teeth clean. They won’t take the place of brushing, but they may limit plaque and tartar buildup and, like brushing, prolong the intervals between professional dental scaling. And there are several products designed to keep your dog smelling fresh from the inside-out, using such ingredients as parsley, fennel, cinnamon, peppermint as well as enzymes and probiotics that directly target the harmful bacteria in your dog’s mouth.

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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Posted in Ask the Vet, Canine Ask the Vet

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