Keeping Your Tiny Dog Healthy: Dental Care Edition
Did you know that small breed dogs have a higher incidence of severe dental disease, at a younger age, than their large breed counterparts? Read on to understand why this happens and what you can do to take a proactive role in your small or toy breed’s oral health.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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You adore your small breed dog. Of course, you do! You knew when you adopted that palm-sized snuggler that you were promising her comfort, protection, and lots of fun.
But something that you may not have signed up for? Stinky breath. Periodontal disease. Tooth loss.
Some Quick Facts on Canine Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease, or “gum disease” is caused by an accumulation of bacteria known as plaque. If left unchecked, plaque bacteria creep under the gumline and cause gingivitis - those red, puffy gums that may bleed easily during chewing or brushing.
Periodontal disease is, by far, the most common health issue diagnosed in our canine friends - up to 90% of pets have some form of dental disease by the time they’re 1 year old!
And small breed dogs (those under 10 pounds) are at the highest risk for early-onset and quick progression of periodontal disease. This is primarily due to things like anatomy, behavior, and other genetic factors:
- Overcrowding of teeth - decreased spacing between teeth allows for an accumulation of plaque bacteria and limits the effectiveness of chewing as a cleaning mechanism.
- Tooth rotation and malocclusion - abnormal positioning of teeth in tiny mouths combined with that precious but problematic underbite can wreak havoc on oral health.
- Early loss of bone density in the jaw - many small breed dogs show radiographic evidence of decreased jaw bone density by 1 year of age. This is typically caused by an advanced form of gingivitis, called periodontitis. Bone is “eaten away” as the disease progresses.
- Short tooth roots - combine this with early periodontal disease and decreased jaw bone density and you have a recipe for loose, painful teeth.
- Decreased chewing behaviors - on average, smaller dogs spend less time chewing for entertainment than large breed dogs.
Common Dental Problems in Small Breed Dogs
Retained Deciduous (Baby) Teeth
This condition occurs when the adult tooth erupts abnormally, and the puppy tooth is not pushed out. It most commonly affects the canine teeth but can involve any tooth in the mouth.
Retained deciduous teeth can result in further crowding, tooth rotation, and bone loss in a pup that’s already prone to these types of conditions.
So what can you do?!
Evaluate your puppy’s mouth frequently! Adult canine teeth typically erupt between 5-6 months of age and should not be present at the same time as the baby teeth. If you notice extra teeth in your dog’s mouth, schedule a visit with your veterinarian right away. Sedation or anesthesia is typically required to successfully extract these teeth without pain and without risk of breaking the fragile roots.
Abscesses are advanced forms of infection that occur when bacteria invade the inside of a tooth. Once the tooth dies, the bacteria will travel through the tooth’s root canal and invade surrounding bone. Untreated abscesses can lead to chronic eye infections, sinus infections, facial abscesses, and oronasal fistulas (connection between the oral cavity and the sinuses caused by destruction of the infected bone).
The good news is, if caught early, proper treatment of the abscessed tooth can almost always resolve the problem. Treatment options include root canal therapy or extraction of the infected tooth.
Pathologic Jaw Fractures
Due to early loss of jaw bone density and increased risks for bone loss due to dental infections, small breed dogs are at higher risk for fractures of the jaw. In cases of severe periodontal disease, these fractures can be caused during normal chewing or playing behaviors.
Please note - pathologic jaw fractures are evidence of very severe, very advanced dental disease. Most of these can be avoided with diligent and proactive dental care for our small breed friends.
Want to learn more? Check out the Veterinary Dental Specialties YouTube channel.
Hello, home dental care! Goodbye, stinky breath!
Preventative care is the best way to stave off periodontal disease. Brushing teeth daily with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and doggy toothpaste is an ideal way to set your furry best friend up for a lifetime of healthy smiles. Brushing at least 3 times per week can still significantly decrease plaque bacteria, so don’t get discouraged if you miss a day here and there! Stick with it!
There are also TONS of oral healthcare products out there to help encourage your pint-sized friend to take part in his own dental health. For tried and true options, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council website.
This group of veterinary dentists and scientists recognize treats, chews, diets, and other oral hygiene products that meet pre-set standards for plaque and tartar control in dogs and cats. You’ll notice a special VOHCseal on items that meet or exceed these requirements.
Carefully selected chew toys can be a helpful addition to your fur baby’s dental care routine while also keeping their minds and bodies active (check out our blog for more canine enrichment ideas, coming soon!).
Ensure that the item isn’t too hard for your pup’s teeth. Can’t make an intention in it with your thumbnail? You should probably put it back on the shelf. Toys that are too hard put your chewer at risk for breaking a tooth, which means taking an unwanted trip to see the doggy dentist.
Always monitor your dog’s chewing behaviors and make sure the toy or treat doesn’t pose a choking or obstruction hazard.
It’s time for my checkup, mom!
You’ve brushed those teeth. You’ve selected the best toys and treats. What’s next?
Routine examinations with a veterinary professional are the cornerstone for maintaining your dog’s oral health. Small and toy breed dogs should have their first dental exam before 1 year of age.
Professional dental cleanings, performed under anesthesia, may then be recommended every 6 to 12 months, depending on the health and genetic factors mentioned above. The majority of dental disease (greater than 60%) is found under the gum line. Anesthetic dental cleanings allow for these painful conditions to be diagnosed and treated in a way that is safe for your furry family member.
Dogs who receive regular home and professional dental care have a better quality of life, improved mental and physical wellbeing, and increased longevity.
And remember that promise you made to provide your new best friend with comfort, protection, and fun? This includes caring for their teeth…and now you know how!
Start a dental routine with your pet today! Keep it fun! And love them longer!
Have more questions about dental disease in small breed dogs?
Schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets.