Skip to Content

Dog Dentistry/Dental - How to Avoid Dental Disease in Your Dog

How does dental health impact the overall health of my dog?

Everyone knows that the mouth has a plentiful blood supply; we bite our tongue or lip, and it never seems to stop. When we have dental disease, that's an infection in the mouth, and when you have that type of blood supply, that infection can easily spread to the heart, kidneys, or the liver, anywhere it wants to go, and it can cause severe disease for your pet. Not to mention dental disease is painful. It's incredibly uncomfortable for the pet, and obviously, that decreases their quality of life because they're in constant pain.


Dr. Chip Cooney
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What are some signs and symptoms of dental disease that people can see, or you can see?

The number one sign is always bad breath. People come in complaining of their dog's breath, and we're pretty convinced that we're going to be having some type of a dental issue with this pet. Bad breath in a pet is not normal, so that's first. You might also see things like pets dropping food out of their mouth as they're trying to eat. We see pets chewing on one side of the mouth—we call it food shifting to one side because it hurts on this side. And we'll even see some behavior changes sometimes, where the pet will go and hide, or they're not as interactive as they used to be because they feel bad.

What are some common dental diseases that dogs have?

First and foremost, we see gingivitis. You've heard about gingivitis in people, inflammation of the gums just above the dental line, the enamel layer of the tooth there, so we see inflammation there. But that gingivitis then leads to deeper issues. We call it periodontal disease, which is a disease around the bone and the root and that causes severe pain in pets. We also see things like broken and worn teeth, growths, masses, and tumors in the mouth, and rarely but occasionally cavities.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of dental disease so important?

Every person and every pet wants to keep their teeth, and the earlier we find the problem and the quicker we do something about it, the better chance we have of keeping that mouth healthy, and that's what it's all about—keeping the mouth healthy. So if we find dental disease sooner, we can deal with it, and it's easier on the pet.

How often should my dog's teeth be checked?

We recommend twice-yearly checkups here, but I'll be honest, anytime your pet goes to the vet, your vet should check your pet's teeth. During every sick exam, wellness exam, or semi exam, we check the pet's teeth. That's part of what we do because we know it's so essential for the pet's health. In six months, we can see a dog go from minor dental disease to a pet needing dental cleaning.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Dog Dentistry/Dental - FAQs 1


Dr. Chip Cooney
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What are you looking for when you do a dental exam?

When we do a dental exam, we're looking for oral pathology. And what is oral pathology? Well, oral pathology is any kind of dental disease, whether it's inflamed gums, a broken tooth, a foreign body in the mouth, or some type of a mass or tumor, so we're essentially looking for any kind of dental disease.

What does a healthy dog mouth look like?

We see those occasionally but not a whole lot, perhaps in youngsters. A healthy mouth has a beautiful white crown with no tartar, calculus buildup, yellow buildup, or a crack in the tooth, and the gums are a nice, happy pink color. We also don't want to see any inflammation or redness along the gum.

What other kinds of dental and oral problems can a dog have?

We see fractured teeth, slap fractures that occur, particularly on the chewing teeth. We'll see broken teeth and worn teeth. Sometimes we get hair and junk stuck between the teeth that affect the gums. We see sticks and bones and all kinds of stuff that dogs like to chew. And when you chew a lot, you can lead to all sorts of problems.

Can dogs get cavities?

Can dogs get cavities? The short answer, yes. The long answer, very infrequently. Dog's teeth are shaped differently than ours. We have teeth that are set up for grinding and making the food very, very small. Dogs' teeth are much more pointed, and they're set to shear and cut the food into chunks, and therefore there's not the flat surface to get the cavity on much like it is for me or you. The other thing is that dogs don't tend to eat the sweets we do, drink the Colas we do, or those other silly things that we do that lead to cavities.

How do I know if my dog's mouth is painful?

Dental disease is quite painful, but most dogs don't tell you. Most of the time, they don't whine and cry and complain. They deal with things and move on, but when we look for subtle changes, we can see these things. We may see a dog trying to eat, but the food falls out of their mouth. We may see a dog who is chewing, and we see the food from this side, or it never goes to the right side. The dog is perhaps only chewing on the left side of the mouth because the right side hurts. Some of these pets will drool excessively. And then, we can see behavior changes, because again, dental disease is painful. Some of these dogs become very quiet. They just aren't as interactive or as social as they'd like to be; they want to be by themselves.

Depending on the problem, the pet has to come back to have the problem addressed in the vast majority of cases. Occasionally, we'll deal with something minor, but when we deal with a pet's mouth, they do have to be sedated to deal with that. And we don't do that at the examination. At the examination, we're trying to get a good overview of what may be going on with the pet's mouth, put together a treatment plan on what we think we may be dealing with, and then set up a follow-up appointment for that.

How do I know if my dog even needs a dental exam? I mean, he seems fine.

Well, every pet needs a dental exam. There's just no doubt about it—a minimum of once a year, preferably twice a year. And we do dental exams every time your pet comes to see us, so a sick exam also includes a dental exam. If the dog has not had a dental exam in a year, they need it.

Why does my dog need anesthesia for teeth cleaning?

Well, you could try to clean them like ours, but we don't recommend it. And you're also not going to do a very good job with that. So, pets don't say, "Ah," they don't open their mouth and let us get in there and mess around and scrape and crawl around and do our x-rays, et cetera. So yeah, the pets do have to be sedated for that. There has to be anesthesia involved to be able to truly assess the tooth. We really can't tell what's going on with that probe in the tooth without taking the tooth's dental x-rays. And that can't be done in a pet who's awake.

How is anesthesia administered to my dog, and who monitors him during his sedation?

When the anesthetic is given to a pet, there's a doctor involved and a trained technician. Those two work in combination to place a catheter to get the pet intubated. And then there is a technician whose only job is to monitor the pet while they're under anesthesia, so they stand with a clipboard monitoring your pet's EKG, monitoring your pet's oxygenation, their blood pressure, and their respiration and CO2, making sure to stay on top of your dog while they are sedated.

If anything runs amok, we know within seconds that something's not going well and can react now instead of reacting later.

Some of our clients have heard that vets do anesthesia-free dental cleanings. Is this true?

Well, there may be anesthesia-free tartar cracking, but it's sure not a dental cleaning. Whenever you do a dental cleaning on a pet, you must get under the gum line, and no dog will allow you to clean under the gum line without sedation. The other thing is, if you're just cracking the tartar off with the instruments to crack the tartar, you're putting grooves in the enamel, which makes it easier for more tartar to build up. The dog doesn't just need the cleaning, but they need the polishing and the fluoride treatment as well. So, no, there's no such thing as an anesthesia-free dental cleaning. And our accreditation from AHA requires that we use anesthesia.

How do I know if my dog is going to have a problem with anesthesia?

So that's a widespread concern of clients and totally understandable, but we take anesthesia very seriously. The first thing we're going to do is a physical exam on your pet to get a general assessment. We will do a blood and heart screening to make sure the pet has good, healthy parameters. And if they do, then anesthetic complications are extremely rare. And if your pet does have some pre-existing conditions, then we're going to address those. And if we know about these preexisting conditions, in many cases, we can work around those with our anesthetic protocols so that we can still deal with the pet's dental disease, even in a pet who has some preexisting heart condition or liver condition-or kidney disease. We're quite confident in our protocols. And again, it is all but unheard of to have an issue.

Is my dog too old for a dental cleaning?

So old is not the question—what we're looking for is healthy. Is your pet too old? Well, we've done dentals on 18-year-old dogs and 20-year-old cats before, so age is not the issue. It is a matter of what we're dealing with and how healthy the pet is. We've routinely worked on dental disease in senior dogs because they're healthy enough, and the dental disease is decreasing their quality of life. And if we can give them a better quality of life, we should.

Is there anything that I need to do as a pet owner to help my dog prepare for a dental cleaning?

There's not a whole lot that you, the dog owner, can do to prepare. It is an anesthetic procedure, so we ask that food be taken away after 10 o'clock the night before. And water's fine. We ask you to get the pet here early to start with pre-medications that morning and don't give the dog breakfast either.

Sometimes we will have the owners give some pain medicine preemptively or antibiotics in a severely diseased mouth preemptively. But those are about the only things we ask owners to do to get ready for their dental procedures.

What is a professional dental cleaning like for a dog?

As discussed, dental cleaning does require sedation, and it can be quite involved, but we put together a dentistry cleaning two-part video that goes into that, and we would invite you to look at that video. It will go far more in-depth about the procedure and give you some excellent visuals on precisely what we do.

Will my dog have dental x-rays and, if so, why?

So the likelihood is yes, they will be getting dental x-rays. There's what we consider a grade one dental, which is minor tartar and calculus buildup that we don't routinely do dental x-rays, but probably 80 to 90% of our dentals need dental x-rays. And the reason is that dogs can't tell us where it hurts. You know, you go in to see the dentist, and you say, "My tooth hurts over here," and they still x-ray your teeth to find out what's going on, right? Well, your pet doesn't tell us that. So the dental x-ray's the only way to truly tell what's going on underneath the gum line, what's going on in the periodontal space-and we see if the dog genuinely has some oral disease there. So, routinely dental x-rays are performed, yes.

When my pet is under anesthesia for a dental, are all their tooth, and dental issues or tooth and mouth issues addressed during that time, or do they have to come back?

The preference is to deal with them then. We have a general plan when we go into the dental as to what we're going to do. Still, we always get your cell phone number so that we can reach you during the procedure and talk about what we've found because until the pet is sedated until we get the dental x-rays done until we probe the teeth, we genuinely don't know what we're going to be dealing with. Ideally, yes, we go ahead and deal with it now, whatever the problem may be—let's get it finished and get it done. The biggest reason is, we only want to sedate or anesthetize the dog one time; if we can only get by with one, that's better for everybody. Occasionally, these procedures go on for an extended time, and we have to split them into two different treatments. We have to get your okay before moving forward with anything, especially something as significant as dental disease.

If my dog needs extractions, will they be given pain medication?

There's no doubt about that. We're very proactive in pain management, and pain management helps the recovery process, and extractions are painful. They're painful for us, so they're painful for your pet. We do nerve blocks just like the dentist does for you or me, and then there will invariably be pain medicine to go home, whether it's just for a few days or longer, depending on what we truly find and what we need to deal with.

How long does a dental cleaning usually take?

That varies. They can be as short as 30 minutes or less for a grade one dental, but I've had dentals go two and three hours and still have to come back for more. Some of the procedures can become very long. It just depends on what we're dealing with.

Why would you sometimes have to prescribe antibiotics before a dental or after dental?

Again, dental disease is an infection. And if the infection is bad enough, we want to try to get it under control before getting into the procedure. It helps the mouth heal better. Even after the disease is dealt with, there still may be some infection in the bone surrounding the tooth. We've got to get rid of that as well, hence sending the antibiotics home with you.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Dog Dentistry/Dental - FAQs 2


Dr. Chip Cooney
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How can I care for my dog's teeth at home?

Far and away, the best way is to brush the dog's teeth. That is the way we take care of our teeth, and that's the way we recommend taking care of your dog's teeth as well. There's nothing that does any better than the abrasive action of brushing. But there are a few points we need to talk about with brushing. The first is, pets don't use human toothpaste. Our toothpaste is made to spit, and pets don't spit very well. So they need pet-specific toothpaste, and they make them in chicken, beef, and seafood flavors. Most dogs enjoy these flavors. But then the big thing is that we've got to make it fun for the pet. So we'll talk about that in the next question.

The other thing is that there are some chews out there. Everyone has seen the chews that say, "will clean your pet's teeth." And believe it or not, some of them do what they say. But there is a seal called the VOHC Seal, which stands for Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal. This seal is on packages for the products that truly do what they say they're going to do. They've been clinically shown to remove tartar if they say they truly remove tartar. Things like GREENIES can do that, and there are many other products out there. But there are many products out there that just say, "Clean your pet's teeth" that have no study behind them. It's just somebody putting that on the back. If you see the VOHC Seal, you can be confident that it's going to do at least something to help keep your pet's teeth clean. The solutions, oral treatments, and water treatments are primarily for the breath. They're not going to help clean the teeth, so brushing is number one, two, and three.

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

I get that asked frequently, and I always look the client in the eye and say, "How frequently do you brush your teeth?" Hopefully, it's two or three times a day. That would be ideal. The truth is that I would be ecstatic if you were brushing your pet's teeth two or three times a week. The more, the better. But if you could do it two to three times a week, that will make a big difference in keeping your dog's mouth healthy.

Should my pet use human toothpaste?

It smells better to you, but it doesn't taste good to the dogs. They don't like that foamy, frothy stuff that happens with the toothpaste. You need to use pet toothpaste for the pet so that, when they swallow it, it will not bother them. And some of the human toothpastes have xylitol in them, which can be fatal to a pet in high enough quantities.

Are there any tips for making home dog dental care easier?

What I tell people is you've got to make it fun. If you take your dog and put them in a headlock, and say, "Here, we're going to brush your teeth," you're not going to brush that dog's teeth, and that's probably going to be the only chance you ever get to brush that dog's teeth. So we have to work up to it, and we have to make it fun. So you take a little bit of this chicken or beef-flavored toothpaste, and you put it on your finger and let the dog lick it. And that's what you've done today, and you're finished. And tomorrow, you put a little bit on your finger, and you wipe it on their front teeth, and let them lick it. And you're done for the day. And the next day, you wipe a little more. And the next day, you wipe a little more. And when they are used to that, now we might add a little children's soft-bristle finger brush on your finger. And then we do the same thing. We work it around and around.

It's going to take weeks to get to this point. But I have many owners who have done that, and their pets truly like having their teeth brushed. They'll come up to the owner and kind of nudge them because they enjoy having their teeth brushed. And eventually, you can graduate up to a children's soft-bristle toothbrush. Or there are even pet brushes made with two sides, for small areas and large areas. Again, it's got to be fun, or it's not going to happen.

Do I still need to brush my dog's teeth if I'm using GREENIES or the chews?

By all means, you do. Again, brushing is the best. GREENIES are a supplement. The chews are a supplement. And they can help, but they're not taking the place of brushing.

What chew toys are safe for a dog?

What I tell people is that the chew toy has to be softer than the tooth. When things are harder than the tooth, the tooth loses. Things like cow hooves and deer antlers and even some of these harder Nylabones can fracture a tooth. And once that happens, we're looking at either root canal or extraction of the tooth because that's a very painful condition for the pet. There are many quality chewies out there. We carry some CET rawhide chews that have some stuff in to help keep the mouth healthy. They can work nicely, but you've got to be careful. I'm also a big fan of KONG toys. They're soft enough that they don't break the dog's teeth, but they're hard enough to be indestructible. I've seen some pets destroy some KONG toys, but they tend to generally hold up pretty well.

I'm not a big fan of either Pigs' ears or bully sticks and find them kind of gross. Pigs' ears are fatty. Bully sticks are bull penises, and that's not something I would want to give my dog.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Back to top