What You Need to Know about Annual Dental Check-Ups for Dogs

Dr Amelia Bunker, Resident Veterinarian - Knose Pet Insurance

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Dr. Amelia Bunker

Dr. Amelia Bunker (BVSc), our resident veterinarian at Knose, blends her passion for animal care with her expertise in veterinary science. Her journey from mixed practice clinics to insurance expert motivates her dedication to animal welfare, both in her professional role and as a pet owner.

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When it comes to your dog’s dental health, it’s probably not one of your top priorities. But a dental health check for dogs is a must to protect them from gum disease, infections, and organ failure. 

The gums are a gateway into the bloodstream: the more bacteria your dog has, the more likely for that bacteria to spread to the heart, kidneys, or liver.

Dogs often have loose or crooked teeth, making it easier for infections and abscesses to develop. It’s no wonder around 85% of all dogs over the age of four have gum disease of some kind. 

A wellness plan for your dog that includes a dental check can be a great way to help your furry friend stay healthy. Learn more about the importance of dental cleanings and how to take preventative steps to keep your dog healthy. 

How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet for Dental Check-Up?

Dental disease is a progressive issue, which is why experts recommend having your dog’s teeth examined once a year. 

The easiest way to schedule this for most pet owners is to simply include annual dental check-ups for dogs in an annual routine health check. If you opt for an all-inclusive wellness plan, you can bring your pet in for all necessary services and get everything out of the way in one visit. 

Dental disease typically occurs when either the gums or bones of the jaw become inflamed. (You may hear the terms periodontitis or gingivitis to describe these common conditions.) If your dog has enlarged lymph nodes, it may indicate they have an infection. 

It’s not always easy for a pet owner to spot the problems with their dog’s teeth. Certain signs, like bad breath or interspersed teeth, are common characteristics for dogs, which can give owners the impression that it’s perfectly normal. This explains why so many pet owners neglect their pet’s teeth, especially when their dog is young. 

Experts recommend introducing dental cleaning to dogs as early as possible to help them get used to the whole operation. Even dogs who are well-behaved at a vet appointment may not take kindly to the personal invasion of their mouth. 

What Goes On in an Annual Dental Check-Up?

During the dog’s examination, you can expect the following:

  • History. The vet will want to know your dog’s general medical history. They’ll also take into account the breed of your dog when assessing the health of their mouth. 
  • Symptoms. Excessive drooling, pawing of the mouth, and smelly breath may mean your dog is suffering from a dental condition. Your vet will ask you if you’ve seen this behaviour in the recent past.
  • Examination. The vet will assess more than just the dog’s mouth. They will also check for any swelling or lumps around its head and neck. 
  • X-ray. This helps the vet determine if teeth are impacted or fractured. This can also reveal difficult-to-see abscesses. 
  • Cleanings. The vet will remove the plaque and tartar buildup from the dog’s teeth. 

If the dog has swelling in their cheek or jaw, it could be an abscess. This occurs when an infection kills off some of the tissue in the mouth, which results in the formation of pus around the newly inflamed tissue. 

This swelling can be one of the more painful conditions for dogs, so if the dog has been pawing in the mouth, it could be because they’re suffering from this condition. Bad breath is often a sign that the gums are suffering from infection or inflammation. 

Most professional cleaning, which includes a scale and polish, similar to us going to the dentist, will require a general anaesthetic. This is to make the procedure as safe as possible for your dog. Most dogs will not sit still and hold their mouth open to be cleaned. 

In most instances, your veterinarian will also take dental radiographs to check the parts of your dog’s teeth that are under the gum line and can’t be seen.

How Can I Prepare My Dog for the Check-Up?

The best way to prepare your dog for a dental health check is to perform amateur dental care at home. 

The best time to start this is when they’re a puppy. This way, your dog will get used to having its mouth touched and teeth cleaned, which makes it easier for you to check and notice when things are not right. If you have missed out on the puppy stage, you can get started at any age (as long as you do it with a lot of love and patience). 

At-home dental care runs the gamut in terms of effort and results:

  • You can clean your dog’s teeth daily, just as you would yourself. However, there are special dog toothbrushes and toothpaste you can use. Human toothbrushes and toothpastes are generally not appropriate for pets.
  • In the middle of the road, you can use antibacterial dental wipes (available at pet stores) to remove bacteria from your dog’s mouth.
  • For the path of least resistance, you can look for snacks and treats that help keep your dog’s mouth clean. There are also good quality foods that are specially designed to help with dental health. Talk to your vet to see what may be the best option for your dog.

Some dog owners are hesitant to stick their hands into their dog’s mouth, and honestly, no one should blame them! Brushing a dog’s teeth takes time to help them get used to the idea. It may involve more than a few tries. 

You’ll need to be gentle when handling your dog’s muzzle and strategic in the circular motions of the brush. This is why it is so important to start a dental health routine with your dog while they are a puppy; this way, they get used to having their mouth being cared for.

Will My Dog Always Display Symptoms of Dental Troubles?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. A dog owner can be expected to notice when the dog howls in pain, but they can’t be expected to know when plaque is attacking the gums or turning into hard-to-remove tartar. 

When a dog has periodontal disease, the chances of bacteria entering into the bloodstream will increase. Once that happens, it becomes difficult for the body to control. It can travel to the major organs and eventually cause life-threatening diseases. So while periodontitis isn’t fatal, it doesn’t mean it can’t turn serious if left untreated. 

Looking after Your Dog’s Health

When it comes to dental health, pet owners can’t take any chances. Many generations ago, when dogs were in pain, it didn’t bode well to showing it to their enemies. The more vulnerable a dog looks, the more likely it is they’ll be attacked in the wild. And just because your dog doesn’t have a lot of predators anymore, it doesn’t mean that their instincts are gone. 

Your dog deserves the best care so they live a happy and comfortable life. This includes vaccinations and parasite prevention, but it also means looking at their dental health as well. An annual wellness plan for your dog can be the key to helping them get the care and attention they deserve. 

At Knose, we provide individualised pet wellness plans to mitigate certain emergencies. They are tailored by your vet for your pet’s needs and give you some peace of mind.  Ask your vet about Knose Wellness Plans today!

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