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Q:         Our five-year-old Beagle mix, recently had to have some teeth removed because of a bacterial infection.  We’d like to avoid this kind of dental work, in the future.What can we do to prevent infections and preserve her existing teeth?

A:         There are many potential causes of bacterial infections that could necessitate extractions of your dog’s teeth.  I will address a few of the more common causes and how to prevent them.

            In a 5 year old Beagle, perhaps the most common cause of infection is a tooth root abscess secondary to a fractured tooth.  This is such a common, and preventable, situation and one which I encounter often.  Even though there are many products on the market which are intended to clean a dog’s teeth through the act of chewing, ANY object which is harder than the dog’s tooth can lead to a fracture.  This includes, for example, marrow bones, nylabones, and cow hooves.  If a fracture enters deep enough into the dentin, or substance of the tooth, bacterial leakage can occur and enter the pulp (nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth).  This is painful and eventually leads to infection and destruction of the bone around the root of the tooth.  This is often not discovered until the abscess ruptures through a draining tract and we see a swelling with discharge and drainage through the skin, usually under the chin or under the eye.  Dental radiographs can confirm the problem and in these cases, performing an extraction or root canal of the tooth is the only solution.  Prevention in this case consists of not allowing your dog to chew on any object which is hard enough to cause fractures.  Even softer objects like rope toys and tennis balls can cause abrasive wearing that over time can lead to an abscess. For dogs that really love to chew and might otherwise destroy your belongings, some alternatives which are usually safer for the teeth include rubber Kong TM toys, cotton rope toys, and compressed rawhide strips, such as Friskies Chew-Eez TM.  But, these could be chewed into pieces and larger pieces can cause choking, or a blockage in the esophagus or intestines, so it is best to give your dogs toys only while under your close supervision.

            The next most common cause of tooth loss due to infection is periodontal disease.  Periodontal disease is the most common disease seen in dogs.  We can prevent periodontal disease as well as manage the consequences with regular dental care, which includes brushing your dogs teeth (daily is best), as well as regular dental cleanings at your veterinarian’s office.  Prevention is best and I recommend starting at an early age by discussing brushing with your veterinarian when your dog is a puppy.  If you start slowly and make the process enjoyable for your pet, brushing can often be a successful venture, but it should only be started on a healthy pain free mouth.  If you see a lot of redness from tartar on the teeth, a dental cleaning should be done first.  You can purchase special brushes and pet friendly toothpaste which is flavored and safe for your dog to swallow.  Dental cleanings are extremely important, especially in small or toy breed dogs and should be started at an early age before periodontal disease and bone loss becomes irreversible.  Our pet’s teeth require preventative dental care just like ours do!

Donna Bucciarelli, DVM

Dr. Bucciarelli is a graduate of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She completed an internship at Oradell Animal Hospital. She is most interested in emergency and critical care medicine and dentistry. Her interests include cooking, swimming, yoga and travel. Donna is a member of the New Jersey Medical Reserve Corps (NJMRC). Donna volunteers her time and professional expertise to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies. MRC volunteers supplement existing emergency and public health resources.