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Dental Care

Tips for Keeping Your Dog's Teeth Clean & Healthy

Believe it or not, taking care of your dog’s teeth is as important as taking care of your own. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, nearly two-thirds of dog owners do not provide the veterinarian-recommended guidelines for dog dental care. Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in adult dogs, and most dogs have some form of the disease by the time they turn 3 years old.
Just like us, dogs can experience plaque build-up if we don’t take proper care of their teeth. This turns into tartar, which accumulates around the gum lines and causes irritation, and can eventually lead to gum inflammation (gingivitis), bone/soft tissue loss, and gum disease. Bacterial infection can also lead to tooth loss and complications of the heart, lung, or kidney as your dog ages. The good news is that, with regular dental care, these diseases are preventable.

How to Brush a Dog’s Teeth at Home
The gold standard for dog oral care at home is brushing. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Get your dog used to the idea of having his teeth brushed. Keep the sessions short and positive. Dip your finger in beef bouillon and massage his lips in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks, and then move on to the teeth and gums.

  • Wrap your finger in gauze or place a toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and clean in small, circular motions, lifting your dog’s lip if necessary. Because the side of the tooth that touches the cheek contains the most tartar, concentrate there.

  • When you’re almost finished, brush vertically toward the inside of the mouth to clear any plaque you’ve dislodged.

  • Use a brush designed especially for dogs; it’s smaller than a human toothbrush and has softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger are also available.

  • Use toothpaste designed for dogs; using your own toothpaste can cause distress and upset your dog’s stomach.

Develop a Regular Cleaning Routine
Consistency is key. Brush your dog’s teeth at least 2 to 3 times a week. Once a day brushing is ideal. The better you are at keeping a regular routine, the easier it will be on your dog and the more likely he will start to respond positively to you brushing his teeth. It will also help you remember to keep his teeth clean and healthy as you start to commit to a regular cycle.

Check for Tell-tale Signs
Between vet visits, be sure to check your dog for these important warning signs.

  • Bad breath: Dogs can have bad breath for a variety of health reasons, including dental disease

  • Swollen and/or bleeding gums

  • Difficulty eating

  • Yellow and brown tartar deposits on the gum line

  • Excessive drooling

If you notice any of these warning signs in your dog, make an appointment with your vet. Your vet may recommend a professional dental cleaning, which begins with blood work to determine if your dog is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia . If he is, your vet will administer anesthesia to him and begin a comprehensive cleaning. This includes:

  • A complete oral exam and x-rays to identify problems under the gum line

  • A full cleaning under the gum line to prevent periodontal disease

  • Professional scaling to remove plaque and tartar build-up on the crown

  • Polishing the teeth to prevent plaque and bacteria

Specifically formulated dental dog foods and treats can slow the formation of tartar and avoid the onset of dental disease. Science Diet Adult Oral Care dog food provides precisely balanced nutrition along with scrubbing teeth, freshening breath, and reducing plaque, tartar, and stain build up. Hill's Prescription Diet t/d Canine dog food is an option to consider for smaller dogs. It offers nutrition for your dog’s teeth and is available in small bites.


Hospital Dental Care

Prior to anesthesia, your pet will be given a combination of medications to prepare for full anesthesia. In order to determine which medications are safe and appropriate for him/her, we will perform blood tests to identify unseen diseases, and in addition reduce the likelihood of complications during anesthesia.

  • Pre-anesthetic CBC blood work is done to determine red/white blood cell/platelet count. Red blood cells (RBCs) carry oxygen to the tissues of the body and transport carbon dioxide to be exhaled by the lungs. Identifying low RBCs is vital.

  • Platelets are a crucial component of the blood clotting system. Adequate numbers must be present to prevent or stop bleeding. Therefore, it is very important that platelet numbers are known prior to your pet's dental procedure and to identify clotting issues.

  • Pre-anesthetic biochemistry blood work is done to determine whether the drugs for pain/premedication prior to surgery and anesthetic are safe for your pet. The results will give the veterinarian an overview of how well the internal organs are functioning, including the liver and kidney that will metabolize the Isoflurane anesthetic gasses. Pre-surgical testing can also identify unseen diseases and reduce the likelihood of complications during anesthesia.

  • For geriatric cats we also like to do a SDMA/T4 test. The SDMA(kidney) and T4(thyroid) test is a very reliable kidney marker and will give the veterinarian insight into the stage of chronic kidney disease. The thyroid plays a major role in metabolism and effects all organs in the body. All this information will help us create an anesthesia plan specific for your pet at this stage in his/her life.


IV fluid therapy is important during the peri-anesthetic period even when your pet is a healthy patient. IV fluids will correct normal fluid losses, and support the cardiovascular function (heart function and blood circulation). It also gives us the option to counter any negative effects of the anesthetic premed/induction agents, for instance low blood pressure.

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Radiographs!! At Verzijlenberg Veterinary Hospital, we have a digital dental radiograph machine. Intraoral radiographs are a very important part of a dentistry procedure because a visual examination doesn't tell your veterinarian everything he needs to know. Teeth are like icebergs; it’s what you can’t see that’s causing the trouble. Radiographs are necessary for dental treatments to allow your veterinarian to see "inside" a tooth and beneath the gumline to assess the health of the bone and supporting tissues that hold teeth in place.

Dental issues that can only be seen below the gum line with radiographs would include feline resorptive lesions, root fractures, and periodontal pockets.

During this time, your pet will be under anesthetic and all vital signs will be monitored by a second RVT(registered veterinary technician). 

The RVT will do a complete dental prophy which includes scaling the teeth with an ultrasonic scaler. This removes all plaque and calculus buildup. After the scaling, they will finish off with polishing all of the teeth to smooth out any micro abrasions on the teeth, to help prevent the build up of plaque in the future. 

Our veterinarians check for damaged teeth and 'pockets" - much like a dentist does with people. Your cat’s gums should be firmly attached to each tooth, so bacteria can’t get in and destroy the gum tissue, bone tissue and roots.

If your cat has a tooth that is infected or the pulp is exposed, your cat is in pain and likely needs a tooth extraction. Our veterinarians will recommend pulling a tooth if we believe it's absolutely necessary for your cat's long-term health and wellbeing.


The recovery is a critical phase of anesthesia. It begins when the anesthetic gas is turned off, but it does not end at the time of extubation. Once your pet is in ICU and 

awake, a designated RVT will stay with your pet and monitor him/her for the first 30 minutes. For the next three hours, she will continue regular monitoring until all parameters return to normal and your baby is fully awake, aware, warm and comfortable.

Depending on the procedure, our hospital uses an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) per injection at the hospital for post-operative pain management to keep your pet comfortable for the first 24 hours. If necessary, we will add a long acting (3 days) medication and an NSAID suspension to continue at home. Pain is now considered the 5th. vital sign and consequences of pain are: a weakened immune system, tissue edema (fluid collection), infection and impaired wound healing. Your pet should not be in pain at any time during his/her recovery at the hospital or at home.A perioperative prophylactic antibiotic will be given for surgeries that do not extend past three hours; and if indicated, you will continue with antibiotic tablets at home


When your pet goes home again, the RVT that sat with him/her after the dental procedure, will discuss discharge information with you and answer any questions you might have.

Gingivitis is measured in 4 separate stages, depending on severity, explained in the chart below

Calculus or tarter: hard deposits, often stained yellow or brown, that form on teeth due to inadequate plaque control.

Gingiva: soft tissue surrounding the teeth.

Gingivitis: inflamed, or swollen  gum tissue that may bleed easily when probed or brushed.

Periodontitis: advanced gum disease in which the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets and alveolar, or supporting, bone is destroyed.  Untreated, it will lead to tooth loss.

Plaque:  a film composed of food particles mixed with saliva and bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth.  It is a key factor in the  development of dental disease.

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