Concerned about tooth decay
Q Should my dog be having regular visits to the dentist? I know that there are veterinarians who specialize in teeth.
Spring Lake, New Jersey
Dear Ms. Pine,
AVeterinary dentists can perform root canals and other complicated procedures that are probably not within the purview of your general practice veterinarian. But for routine dental care, your dog’s usual doctor should do. She will check your pet’s teeth and gums at his annual or semi-annual checkups to see if referral to a veterinary dentist is necessary, and, as your dog passes from middle age to old age, will perform periodic teeth cleanings under general anesthesia (because a dog cannot cooperate for the procedure, as a person can).
The person a dog does need to see regularly is his dental hygienist. That’s you. Once a day, every single day, you should brush his teeth with toothpaste meant for dogs. It contains substances that are safe for a dog to swallow (a dog will not rinse and spit) and also comes in flavors dogs will happily tolerate — poultry, lamb, and so on. The better you are about cleaning your dog’s teeth at home, the longer it will be before his first professional cleaning. And once he does start to have cleanings, the more time that will elapse between them. That will not only save you money. It will save your dog from having to undergo anesthesia more often than necessary.
Use a soft human toothbrush that fits easily into your dog’s mouth or one made for dogs that has a long handle, or even one that fits over your fingertip like a flexible thimble with bristles on the end. Make sure to brush at the gum line as well as on the rest of the teeth. You won’t be preventing cavities — they’re a real rarity in dogs. You’ll be preventing periodontal, or gum, disease, which can cause teeth to loosen and eventually fall out. n