When you first welcomed home a new puppy, you could not help being aware of their teeth, because they gnawed on anything in reach. However, as your furry pal grew up, their teeth—and their dental health—may have slipped to the back of your mind. Now your adult dog has horrendous breath, so you schedule an appointment with our team. 

During your pet’s appointment, the veterinarian performs a thorough physical exam before focusing on your dog’s mouth. She lifts up their lip, points out the yellow-brown material called tartar stuck on their teeth, and explains that the tartar can cause serious and painful problems for your pet. Your dog also has some redness and swelling along the gumline, and they wince at the touch. This gingivitis is a sign your pet has dental disease, caused by oral bacteria accumulation over the years. To help illustrate that regular dental care is critical for pets, we share a story about one of our patients* who was at risk for poor dental health.

Tucker’s toothy tale

Tucker, a Yorkshire terrier puppy, came for his first puppy visit at 9 weeks of age. Back then, he was all needle-sharp teeth and fluffy hairdo. Our veterinary team performed Tucker’s physical exam and gave him a clean bill of health. We also advised his owner, Mrs. Smith, to begin practicing good dental health habits right away, as Yorkies were prone to severe dental disease, starting at a young age.

Mrs. Smith was not sure what that would entail for her tiny puppy, and asked many great questions about caring for Tucker’s teeth, by herself at home, and at our Palmer Vet Clinic

We shared with Mrs. Smith some of the best ways to care for Tucker’s teeth at home.

“Ideally, introduce Tucker to toothbrushing now, so he’ll be used to it by the time his adult teeth grow in. Tucker’s teeth should be brushed twice daily to prevent plaque formation, which occurs only a few hours after eating. The plaque will harden and turn into cement-like tartar in days if not removed with brushing. Unfortunately, brushing will not remove tartar, which will trap bacteria in your pet’s mouth, and may lead to painful gingivitis, bad breath, loose teeth, gum recession, tooth-root abscesses, and sometimes to heart disease.

“In addition to brushing Tucker’s teeth, choose dental-health products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Chews, treats, water and food additives, and dental wipes, along with daily toothbrushing, can go a long way toward combating periodontal problems.

“While staying on top of Tucker’s at-home dental care is essential, he’ll occasionally need a helping hand from our team. As Tucker grows, we’ll keep an eye out for persistent deciduous teeth, which are those pesky baby teeth that refuse to fall out on their own. These extra teeth attract more plaque and tartar, and will need to be removed. As a Yorkie, Tucker likely will need a comprehensive dental cleaning under anesthesia in his first few years to remove all that tartar below the gumline. Your daily toothbrushing will remove the plaque visible on the teeth, but up to 60% of the teeth’s structure lies beneath the gumline where the brush can’t reach. This area of the tooth also develops plaque and tartar, leading to disease, and can only be addressed with a thorough comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment (COHAT) under anesthesia.

“During a COHAT, we use specialized instruments to remove plaque and tartar from a pet’s teeth above and below the gumline. We then polish the teeth, smoothing out microscopic abrasions made by the dental instruments, where plaque and tartar can collect. We also take dental X-rays, which allow us to evaluate each tooth completely, including the portion located below the gumline. X-rays often detect tooth damage or disease that is not obvious above the gumline, and we may recommend extraction to alleviate pain and discomfort. Pets are anesthetized during a COHAT, since they do not understand the people restraining them and putting scary instruments in their mouth are helping, and not trying to hurt them. Also, thoroughly cleaning the teeth, including below the gumline, would not be possible on an awake pet. Rest assured that each anesthetized pet has a veterinary technician by their side the entire time, in addition to a second technician assisting with the dental procedure, so Tucker will be in good hands.”

We sent Mrs. Smith and Tucker on their way with plenty of dental care information. Our team double-checked the pup’s mouth at each of his following puppy visits. Following Tucker’s final puppy visit, we still needed to monitor his teeth to ensure the deciduous teeth had fallen out, and planned to check his teeth again when we performed his neuter surgery in seven months. 

When Tucker came in for his neuter surgery, we performed his pre-surgical exam and noticed he still had all four baby canine teeth, along with his adult canines. The baby teeth were solidly rooted and unlikely to ever come out on their own. He was also already developing tartar build-up between his deciduous and permanent canines. We discussed the situation with Mrs. Smith, and decided to extract these four baby canines to prevent any further issues. 

Tucker’s neuter and tooth extraction procedures went smoothly, and he woke up comfortably and ready to eat. We cautioned his owner that he should eat only soft food for a few days to give his mouth time to heal, but he would be back to normal in no time.

About seven months later, we saw Tucker again for his annual wellness visit. As the veterinarian performed his physical exam, they noticed a miniscule amount of plaque and tartar accumulation on his teeth. Mrs. Smith assured us that she typically brushed his teeth twice a day, and gave him a dental chew. We praised Mrs. Smith for her dedication to Tucker’s dental health, but reminded her that he would likely need a professional dental cleaning in the next year to ensure his teeth remained healthy. Mrs. Smith remembered our discussions during Tucker’s puppy visits about his predisposition for dental disease and agreed. 

Over the years, we closely monitored Tucker’s dental health, performing cleanings as needed, and the Yorkie never lost a single tooth to dental disease.  

By developing and maintaining a close relationship with Tucker and his owner, our Palmer Vet Clinic team was able to provide gold-standard preventive care and ensure his dental health never suffered. Tucker’s owners were proactive with the Palmer Vet Clinic team, but we realize that this is not always possible. We can help—by evaluating your pet’s teeth daily, you can tell if something is wrong or smelly, and we can tell you if your pet needs a COHAT under anesthesia. If you suspect your pet has dental disease because of bad breath or tartar buildup, contact us to make an appointment.

*Tucker is not a real patient, but his situation is seen frequently in veterinary hospitals.