Dental Health


Attend to your dog’s dental health.  When a veterinarian  evaluates the health of a dog being proposed for rescue and adoption, a main focus is on the condition of the dog's teeth and gums.  Unfortunately, many senior dogs haven't had the benefit of good dental care prior to their arriving at the state of being in need of a new home. Periodontal, or gum, disease is the one most commonly seen in a veterinarian's office.  In the experience of the Senior Dogs Project, we have noticed that, even when the senior dog has had a comprehensive exam and treatment, dental issues may still arise.  As a result, we advise that you be especially attentive to the dog's sensitivity to or refusal to chew items; he might even wince or cry out when offered a crunchy treat.  Further veterinary attention might be necessary.  Once all the issues have been addressed by the veterinarian, you'll be ready to begin a regimen of at-home care that will prevent future dental problems.

The most important element in dental care for your dog is daily brushing.  You can extend the time between cleanings by your veterinarian by daily brushing of your dog's teeth.  Doggie toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other devices for at-home teeth cleaning are widely available. The toothpaste should contain chlorhexidine to be effective. Beef- or chicken-flavored toothpaste will make your dog think he is getting a treat. (We have known dogs who have begged to have their teeth brushed.) There are so many choices on the market now.  You can do an online search for the offerings of toothbrushes (different sizes for small vs. big dogs), flavorings, and systems.

Here's one technique for brushing your dog's teeth: hold the mouth closed gently. Slide the brush in under the lips and along the teeth, toward the molars. Spend most of the brushing time on the molars, especially focusing on the line along which the teeth meet the gums.  Do what you can with the other teeth. It's not necessary to open the dog's mouth to brush the inside surfaces of the teeth. Don't give up if it doesn't work so smoothly the first time. And try different techniques and different flavors of paste if the suggested ones don't suit your dog. By experimenting, you and your dog will learn how to cooperate to get the job done.  Here's a YouTube video showing how one veterinarian recommends you do it.

Your dog must be under anesthesia to have teeth properly cleaned. Modern monitoring equipment and drugs make it safer than ever for all dogs, including seniors, to come through anesthesia without undue side effects.  Although some pet grooming shops offer teeth scaling without anesthesia, it is ineffective in getting under the gums, which is where serious dental problems reside.  A fully awake dog simply will not tolerate the kind of intrusion that is necessary to complete this type of cleaning. Signing up to clean your dog's teeth without anesthesia will result in (1) wasting your money, and (2) exposing your dog to potential trauma and injury.  Anesthesia for senior dogs is generally safe.  Just be sure you inform the veterinarian about any supplements or medication you are giving your dog, as some can interfere with clotting or with the drugs used during the procedure.  Here's a further comment from Dr. Peter Dobias:

"The potential risks of anesthesia are minimal especially when pre-anesthetic blood work and assessment are done. Infected gums and abscessed teeth are incomparably more dangerous than anesthesia. I have not lost a single dog under anesthesia in 30 years of practice. Toothache, compromised immune system, heart valve infections, and kidney failure are the most common result of neglected teeth and pose a far greater risk to your dog's health than anesthesia."

Here's the link for you to print out a chart that summarizes the Senior Dogs Project's  Ten Tips to Keep Your Senior Dog Healthy.