Dental Care

With appropriate care, oral and dental disease and associated pain can be prevented or minimized. Because so many dogs are affected by dental and periodontal disease, dental care must be incorporated into each dog’s preventive healthcare plan and discussed at every visit (Canine Life Stage Checklists). The oral examination performed on an awake patient allows the practitioner to design a preliminary treatment plan. However, only when the patient has been anesthetized can a complete and thorough oral examination be performed and an accurate periodontal disease diagnosis and assessment can be made.87,88 The full extent of oral pathology necessitates periodontal probing and intraoral radiography under anesthesia.88 When communicating with the client, the use of images (i.e., dental radiography, before- and after-dental cleaning, photographs of common pathology, and exam-room photographs using intraoral camera options if available), and an oral examination with a dental scoring or assessment may help motivate pet owners to take action before irreversible damage is done to periodontal tissues or repair becomes extensive.87,89

Each canine breed and life stage presents its own dental needs and concerns. Certain breeds and sizes of dogs have higher incidence of dental conditions than others.90–93 For breeds predisposed to certain oral conditions (e.g., small breeds, brachycephalics, and dogs with malocclusions), evaluate the need for early intervention and increased frequency of recommended dental procedures.

Pet owner education is paramount to ensure proper dental care throughout the dog’s life. Discuss and demonstrate dental home care options at routine preventive healthcare visits, providing visual, verbal and written information of the benefits and simplicity of effective home care. The Veterinary Oral Health Council registered seal identifies products that help retard plaque and tartar.94 Discuss avoidance of hard toys, bones, and chews that could damage teeth, and provide recommendations for safe products. A few minutes of chewing are needed for any dental product efficacy and if dogs ingest large pieces, a new dental product is needed.

Comprehensive veterinary dental care is more fully described in recently updated AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.88

The 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines are supported by generous educational grants from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Elanco Animal Health, Hill’s ® Pet Nutrition, Inc., IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., Merck Animal Health and Zoetis Petcare.