Oral Hygiene for Dogs

teethsThe oral cavity of dogs is a perfect incubator for all kinds of bacteria, partly because the mouth is warm, moist and has significant nutrients present for organisms to grow on. While most are normal and natural, once plaque and calculus (tartar) form on the teeth the normal microbial flora gets out of balance — and if pathogenic organisms proliferate, trouble ensues.

Types of Oral Diseases


Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. It is extremely common in dogs. Food particles can accumulate in the crevices between a dog’s teeth and gums without a proper diet and good dental care, and the normal bacterial population in its mouth start to proliferate. Plaque forms when bacteria stick to the smooth tooth surfaces, which thickens, mineralizes, hardens and roughens into calculus, also known as tartar. As a result, the gums are pushed away from the teeth, causing pockets that provide a perfect platform for more bacterial overgrowth.


Periodontitis is the most common clinical condition occuring in both dogs and cats. It is a general term for a disease of the oral cavity that attacks the gum and bone and delicate tissues around the teeth. Usually, by three years of age, most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontitis. Unfortunately, other than bad breath, there are few signs of the disease process visible to the owner. As a result, periodontitis is usually under-treated, and may cause multiple problems in the oral cavity and may be associated with damage to internal organs in some dogs as they age.


Pyorrhea is where inflammation of the gums and tooth sockets occurs, and often leads to loosening of the teeth and is accompanied by pus. If untreated, it can lead to bone or tooth loss.


Although very rare in dogs, caries is an area of decalcification of the tooth enamel which can lead to cavities in the tooth. Caries occurs as a result from bacterial decay of the tooth structure brought about by the release of acids from oral bacteria fermenting carbohydrates on the tooth surface.


While dogs rarely get cavities, they are much more prone to gum disease and excess tartar build-up on the teeth. Plaque is the first build-up of material adhering to tooth enamel. It is composed of a mix of intercellular matrix of bacteria, salivary polymers, remnants of epithelial cells and white blood cells. This material can cause caries, calculi build-up and periodontal disease.

Calculus (Tartar)

If plaque is not removed, minerals in the saliva combine with the plaque and form calculus (or tartar). Calculus is calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate combined with organic material and is deposited on the surface of the tooth. The tartar can irritate the gums and cause inflammation known as gingivitis.

Adverse Effects of Poor Oral Hygiene

The toxins that occur from periodontal disease are absorbed into the dog’s blood stream. Small infections occur as the kidneys, liver and brain filter the blood, causing permanent and at times fatal organ damage. Owners can give proper home care after the periodontal disease is treated. Due to the decreased pain and infection, most dogs usually respond well.

The adverse effects of periodontal disease occur as a result of the toxins the bacteria secrete and the damage these toxins cause to delicate kidney, cardiac and brain tissue. Additionally, many veterinarians believe that actual bacterial colonies can spread via the circulation and set up housekeeping within the animal’s tissues, commonly in the heart valve areas, kidneys and liver. Preventing the health damaging periodontal disease is far better than having to extract teeth, perform gingival flaps, fill erosions or doing root canal procedures.

Dental Procedures

Pet owners’ concerns regarding the safety of dental procedures always seems to be an impediment to performing dental procedures, especially since anesthesia is an important aspect of a thorough dental cleaning.

While most dogs presented with advanced periodontitis are older canines, age is not a disease, and senior citizen dogs that are otherwise healthy are generally able to tolerate anesthesia for an elective procedure. Even though anesthesia safety is continually improving, there will never be a time when there is no risk. The question is really whether the level of risk is appropriately measured against the damage to the animal’s quality of life if it does not have a dental procedure.

In modern veterinary practices the anesthetics utilized are markedly safer than those used 15 or 20 years ago and patient monitoring during anesthesia has become quite sophisticated. The opportunity for the patient to benefit from the dental procedure is improved with the use of intravenous fluids during the procedure, warmed surgical surfaces to keep the patient’s body temperature stable and preanesthetic blood chemistry evaluation.


Providing your dog with a well-balanced, meat-based dog food is one of the best ways to insure optimum oral health. Meat helps with keeping the mouth environment healthy. Actively encouraging your dog to utilize chew treats that require some “exercising” of the teeth, such as is provided by compressed rawhide chewies, hard rubber or nylon chew toys, can assist in keeping the mouth structures vital. It can be help immensely to brush your pet’s teeth as well, but this needs to be done almost daily.

A study in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, December, 1996, reported, “Tooth-brushing every other day did not maintain clinically healthy gingiva in dogs. The daily addition of a dental hygiene chew to a regimen of tooth brushing every other day reduced the gingivitis scores and reduced the accumulation of dental deposits (plaque, calculus and strain). Daily tooth-brushing should be the recommendation to the dog owner irrespective of dietary regimen.”

Newer dental care products that include antiseptic impregnated chewies, canine appropriate tooth brushes and even flavored tooth pastes to “reward” the dog for allowing the brushing, are available online and in many pet supply stores. It is also important to schedule routine oral hygiene visits where under light anesthesia the patient can undergo ultrasonic teeth cleaning, close inspection of teeth and gingiva, and assessment of overall oral health.


It is extremely beneficial to your dog’s long-term health status to address problems when they are minor and prevent the health damaging effects of bacterial contamination and systemic toxin release. Contact All Pets Veterinary Medical Center with the link below or to schedule an appointment with us today!

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