Hi Dr. Barchas. I have a question about caring for
Cleo is a nearly three-year-old Italian Greyhound mix
with very brown teeth. It extends from the gum
line down most of her front canines, with only
1/2 an inch or less white space showing. Most of
what I’ve read on the subject says that Italian
Greyhounds are slightly more prone to dental
diseases than their more drooly cousins. I don’t
see any signs of gum infection and none of them
are loose as nearly as I can tell, so what is this
brown substance I’m looking at? Tartar? Scale?
Will brushing with an enzymatic toothpaste help
dissolve it until we can schedule a dental check
Hermitage/ Buhl Park, PA
You have already touched upon the most important piece of advice that I can offer: schedule a veterinary checkup to have Cleo’s teeth assessed.
Based on your description, the brown substance you are seeing is most likely tartar, also known as dental calculus. Tartar may be colored yellow or brown. It is a hard substance. Most people are painfully familiar with tartar, because their dentists remove it unpleasantly with a metal scraping device.
Tartar is produced by bacteria living on the teeth. Over time, bacteria living on the teeth will spread to the gums. This leads to pain, inflammation, tooth loss, and a host of other problems.
In some cases, regular brushing with an enzymatic toothpaste can lead to reduced tartar on the teeth. And there is absolutely no doubt that regular brushing helps to prevent tartar buildup and gum infections when the mouth is healthy. However, if significant tartar is present, or if bacteria have moved into the gums then professional dental treatment will be necessary.
Italian Greyhounds, and all small dogs, tend to develop dental problems more rapidly than their larger (drooly, if you prefer) cohorts. However, dental disease is common in all breeds and sizes of dogs and cats.
One final note. I have met several Italian Greyhounds whose teeth are naturally discolored brown. This is a hereditary feature, and not a medical problem. There is a chance that Cleo does not have significant tartar, but instead has harmlessly discolored teeth. Your vet will be able to tell the difference.