The Latest in Dog Dental Health Advancements

A dog sitting in a dentist chair.
A dog sitting in a dentist chair. Photography ©mariakbell | Thinkstock.
Last Updated on February 2, 2018 by

If your dog suddenly growled or dodged your affectionate head pats or left scattered pieces of kibble on the kitchen floor during mealtime, the cause may not be due to a testy temperament or a finicky attitude. If you noticed one side of his face seems swollen, or you spotted bloodstains on his favorite chew toy, reach out to your veterinarian. These are definite signs that your dog may be in pain, due to a broken canine tooth, bleeding gums, a root-exposed back molar or other oral health issue. In honor of National Pet Dental Health Month, let’s look at some dog dental issues — and some of the latest advancements in the field.

How to prevent dog dental diseases like periodontal disease

A dog getting his teeth brushed.
Regular brushing along with regular professional dental cleanings can make a big impact on your dog’s health and quality of life. Photography ©JimVallee | Thinkstock.

“The No. 1 disease in dogs is periodontal disease, and untreated periodontal disease destroys structures and leads to fractures of the jaw,” declares Dale Kressin, D.V.M., D.A.V.D.C., F.A.V.D., a veterinary dentist who operates Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery Specialists in Oshkosh and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “You need to look inside your dog’s mouth to spot any issues. And the easiest way to look is when you are brushing your dog’s teeth. If you can’t see teeth because they are covered in plaque and calculus (tartar) or your dog’s breath is strong enough to stop a train, you need to contact your veterinarian immediately. Taking this action just may save your dog’s life.”

Looking and sniffing inside a dog’s mouth and, yes, regular teeth brushing rarely rank high on the list of favorite activities to perform on dogs. But such preventive care along with regular professional dental cleanings performed in veterinary clinics can impact your dog’s quality of life. “There is a direct connection between oral health and overall health,” says Bonnie Shope, D.V.M., D.A.V.D.C., a veterinary dentist and owner of Veterinary Dental Services in Boxborough, Massachusetts. “Periodontal disease causes chronic inflammation and causes the body’s immune system to respond to plaque in the mouth.”

Dog dental issues like overbites & underbites

All dogs have 42 adult teeth, but their jaws vary in size and shape. That explains why breeds like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Labradoodles and Goldendoodles are more prone to overbites while Boxers, Shih Tzus, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers contend more with underbite issues, Dr. Shope says. “Overbite and underbite conditions can cause oral trauma and pain,” she says. “For example, in brachycephalic dogs (those with short muzzles), sometimes the maxillary incisor teeth damage the gums, teeth and bones supporting the lower incisor or canine teeth. This can cause ulceration, tooth mobility, root resorption and loss of teeth.”

How human advancements help dog dental health

Fortunately, veterinary dentistry is expanding in the number of specialists and in scope. By modifying tools and techniques from human dentistry, veterinary dentists are able to successfully perform complex procedures on dogs more thoroughly and often in shorter time today.

“We have adapted our veterinary dental instruments from those that originated from human dental instruments,” Dr. Shope says. “Ours tend to be much smaller and finer.”

Yep, nowadays dogs can and do wear braces. They do get root canals and crowns. And they do undergo surgical procedures to correct underbites and overbites in growing numbers.

In a recent week, for example, Dr. Shope removed oral masses, extracted fractured teeth, treated an overbite and combated periodontal disease in canines ranging from young puppies to senior dogs. And, that is all she can rattle off from the top of her head without looking at her patient charts.

Dr. Kressin says, “In the past few years, the field of veterinary dentistry has been making unprecedented strides in terms of speed and efficiency of care due to the arrival of better materials, tools and techniques. In the future, I see not only veterinary dentistry growing, but the arrival of sub-specialties in our specialty, like exotic dentistry to treat rabbits, rodents and other species.”

All dog teeth are not the same

Dale Kressin, D.V.M., has been on a mission to educate veterinarians and dog breeders about the importance of dental health for more than a decade.

Rather than give a PowerPoint presentation in which he talks to his audience, he brings models
of different synthetic skulls of dogs that cover various sized breeds, from German Shepherd Dogs and Salukis to Pugs.

“All dogs have 42 teeth but these models quickly show people how different the jaws are and the relationship of the teeth,” he says. “These models help people get a better visual picture of the potential dental problems that can occur in different breeds.”

Check out some major ways that canine dentistry has changed — all to your dog’s benefit:

A dog with a crown on his tooth.
This metal crown was placed on the left upper canine for protection of a root canal-treated tooth. Photography courtesy Dr. Dale Kressin.
  1. Advances in anesthesia. “We have better drugs for sedation and pain management,” Dr. Kressin says. “We do health screen profiles so we can customize pain control for each patient. This is good news for older dogs who need dental cleanings. We can do procedures now more time efficiently thanks to the advances in anesthesia.” Dogs and cats can be treated with a selection of sedatives and pain medications to allow lower dosages of anesthesia induction and maintenance drugs. This provides optimal pain management and anesthesia safety.
  2. Correcting under/overbites. “Many of these cases are treated by extracting teeth to relieve oral trauma and pain,” Dr. Shope says. “For orthodontics, a novel approach is the use of Spider Screws, which are screwed into bone as an anchorage device, and have an orthodontic bracket to attach orthodontic power chain between the screw and the tooth that needs to be moved.”
    Improved bonding materials for fillings. Advancements in dental materials currently allow improved bonding with greater patient comfort. “The early materials were like cement patch on a sidewalk that would need hours to chemically cure,” Dr. Kressin says. “But now we use ultraviolet light to cure a product chemically, and the materials are better, stronger, safer and create less tissue response. A dog’s immune system likes them better, too.”
  3. Tooth-colored crowns. Veterinary dentists are able to match the tooth color with zirconium metal, which are far more aesthetically pleasing. However, veterinary dentists typically use case metal crowns for better durability. Aesthetics is of far lower priority for working dogs.
  4. Enhanced handheld dental tools. Improvements in dental equipment have allowed many advancements for veterinary dentistry. High- and low-speed drills have improved the ability to perform veterinary dentistry and oral surgery. Virtually any procedure available for humans today is also feasible for companion animals, according to Dr. Kressin.
  5. Quicker tooth extractions. “There is a new handheld extraction instrument made by iM3 that works like a mini jackhammer to sever the attachment of the tooth to the jaw to make certain extractions easier and faster,” Dr. Shope says.
  6. Better bone-grafting materials. The new bone grafting materials are eliminating the need to take bone from another part of the body and transplant it in a dog’s mouth to encourage bone growth.

Arden Moore, The Pet Health and Safety Coach™, is a pet behavior consultant, master certified pet first aid instructor, author and host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you! 

Thumbnail: Photography ©mariakbell | Thinkstock.

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