By: Dr. Hilary Slaven
In this profession, we often have to have a hard stomach. There are a lot of gruesome and unpleasant things that walk through our door, things that are hard to see and make our hearts stop for a second. Situations that involve gloves and masks and eye protection.
I’m a parent and a veterinarian; I can handle vomit and drainage and diarrhea.
But MAN, some pets can walk in here and blow me away with their bad breath.
Clients will say, “Doc, I can’t hardly watch TV with Sophie anymore; her breath is too bad. I give her biscuits and Greenies and she eats dry dog food, I don’t know what else to do, she wants to greet me but I can’t let her lick me with that nasty mouth.”
Most bad breath is a result of bacteria and food buildup on the teeth, which over time hardens and cements itself to the tooth enamel. This is called tartar. Tartar can continue to build and build, adding layer upon layer, typically on the outside of the teeth. Gums can become swollen and red and sore. In more severe cases, bacteria starts to work its way up the tooth, starting an infection between the tooth and the gums. As this happens, the ligament that holds the tooth in gets broken down and the tooth loosens, eventually causing discomfort and falling out. In other cases, the tooth root itself can become infected and a tooth may need to be pulled under general anesthesia. Worst case scenario: bacteria that gets into the bloodstream and causes systemic or heart valve infection and teeth that are painful causing a dog to stop eating.
Go ahead, take a break and brush your teeth. It’s okay.
Sometimes, more rarely, the bad breath can result from an infected tumor in the mouth or tonsillar swelling or other miscellaneous problems; a good oral exam by your veterinarian would be a good idea to specifically diagnose your pet’s mouth issues.
I can tell you that the same rules apply to your pet as they do to human teeth; often they need to be mechanically cleaned with a special tool that pulls tartar off the teeth. Then the teeth are polished. Veterinarians need to have a pet under general anesthesia for this procedure; some pets need antibiotics and pain management along with this treatment, much like we would if we had a tooth pulled at the dentist.
Once the teeth are clean, then we try to be aggressive about keeping them clean!
Number one way to keep yours and your pets teeth clean: BRUSH THEM. Use separate toothbrushes. (This is a joke. But seriously.) Also separate toothpaste; the fluoride that is in our toothpaste will upset a dog’s stomach. Use a small child’s toothbrush and dog toothpaste, we like C.E.T. toothpaste at our clinic. Just like us, the more often the teeth are brushed the less likely there is buildup that hardens into tartar.
Number two: Feed your dog dry dog food. If you can, it is worth it to buy a quality dog food that has been proven to help prevent tartar buildup. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on this. I can tell you that the right food can prevent or really increase the amount of time between dental cleanings. Definitely worth the investment.
Number three: Feed snacks that are teeth-friendly. If you’re not sure whether to purchase a product or not, look for a VOHC label. This is the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval. The VOHC is made up of a group of veterinary dentists that are experts and endorse certain products if they meet certain standards for slowing down tartar deposit on teeth. This is the seal:
I can tell you from experience that some breeds are more prone to tooth problems than others (i.e. small pure-bred dogs) and may require yearly or even semi-annual teeth cleanings. This is okay and can be normal for your dog. The main thing is to try to fix any current problems and prevent new problems before they occur.
And make it fun to watch Jeopardy with your bestie (beastie?) again.
Websites that are good sources of information on this subject: