JUST like us and our equine partners, dog dental care is extremely important. Dental, oral and maxillofacial diseases are the most common problems facing small animal practice. They cause significant pain, local and potentially systemic disease. Behavioural changes due to oral pain can be vague and non specific. Untreated dental disease causes welfare concerns due to unrelenting pain and chronic infection.

Periodontal disease is the most common medical condition in our patients and has been linked to diabetes mellitus, heart, lung, liver and kidney disease. Fractured dental crowns and roots can result from chewing bones and stones. The oral cavity is a common location for tumours both benign and malignant.

The popular flat faced (brachycephalic) breeds are more at risk of dental disease. It is also seen in more small-sized breeds than heavier breeds. A complete examination is only possible under general anaesthesia.

A complete dental prophylaxis is an involved procedure often including full mouth radiographic imaging; this takes time and can be expensive. Geriatric patients will need pre-anaesthetic blood screening and are often higher risk anaesthesia cases. They require more intensive monitoring and overnight hospitalisation to maintain intravenous fluid therapy and good pain management.

It is impossible to avoid dental disease but you can reduce the severity and delay the onset with good homecare. Daily tooth brushing is the gold standard. A well socialised and correctly handled puppy will allow a stranger (i.e., vet or vet nurse) to get a reasonable examination of the oral cavity. Tooth brushing is done with a soft brush and veterinary toothpaste or gel. Specialised dental diets and chews are useful.

Unfortunately we still see advanced dental disease. These dogs can have a swollen face, an abscess below the eye, drooling blood and saliva and severe halitosis. It is amazing how much discomfort they can tolerate and owner is often unaware of the problem until there is difficulty chewing. These patients require multiple extractions, some surgical and it is not unusual to lose over 20 of their 42 teeth at one procedure. But they are far happier and eat better.

The best way to avoid the above scenario is to ensure your dog attends your veterinary practice for annual health check which includes a limited oral examination. Then you will be informed if a complete oral examination under general anaesthetic is required. Non anaesthesia dental is purely cosmetic. It is dangerous and stressful to patient. The level of dental calculus is not an indicator of the level of disease. The area below the gums must be inspected and properly cleaned.