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Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital

Feature in Island Farm and Garden Magazine

As some of you may already know, our good doctor, Brett Hayward, was featured on the cover of the May/June issue of Island Farm and Garden magazine. His co-model is Shorty the border collie, who is belongs to Daria, the owner of Dog n' Suds daycare and grooming salon.

Inside the issue is an article about canine dental health written by Dr. Hayward. The full text of the article is below. You can read the full issue of the magazine via the Island Farm and Garden website archives, or check at your local grocery, garden or pet supply stores to see if they are distributors. Unfortunately, all of the copies that the publisher gave to us have already been snatched up.


Healthy Teeth = Happy Dog

 Taking care of dogs’ teeth has become much more efficient and thorough in recent years. Canine oral care is not about obtaining or maintaining “a bright smile” as it sometimes is for humans. It’s predominately about battling bacteria. It’s the bacteria in the mouth create most of the smells (halitosis), the gingivitis (red gums), the tartar and the loose teeth. People get cavities; dogs get rotten roots. Bacteria from the mouth can get into the blood stream and set up infection in other parts of the body.

What can you do? As awareness is the key to most things in life, so it is with your dog’s mouth, so you need to have a look into his/her mouth on a regular basis. Ideally, this means starting out at an early age, looking gently into the mouth, making it fun and easy, so that the dog says (in effect), “Hey, I’ve got lots more teeth in case you were interested,” as opposed to turning it into a battle that both you and your dog hate.  Once you have ready access to examining your dog’s oral cavity, you can then assess the situation when there’s something stuck in there, a bad smell, or a suspected loose tooth.

When your veterinarian examines and makes a plan for a dog’s mouth, he/she wants to save as many teeth as possible and clean up the rest, and end up with a happy, healthy mouth. Dogs don’t complain about mouth pain, but we regularly hear from owners, who call a week after a major dental cleaning with extractions, that the dog has turned into a puppy again. This tells us clearly that the dog was getting “ground down” over the months and years from having a sore mouth that was being invaded and attacked by bacteria. You see, a dog’s mouth is a warm, wet place, which is a very happy environment for bacteria. The saliva flushes and the immune system does its best, but bacteria find little niches to get a foot hold and start their colonies.

We know that it takes just three hours for the “fuzzy sweaters” to appear on our teeth—this is plaque, made by bacteria, that is the start of tartar that we feel on our teeth with our tongue in the morning, and this is the start of tartar. So taking care of our teeth or our dog’s teeth a few times a week isn’t always that helpful. There has to be regular care, based on the individual dog’s needs—some dogs need every day care and other dogs are blessed with great mouths that need little care. You might wonder about the difference between dogs and why that is, and that wonder extends to people as well, because some people need to go to the dentist four times a year for cleaning and some rarely go

Here is the guideline that I give to my clients, concept #1: “When you take a wolf and shrink him, you tend to get dental problems.”  What this means is that the smaller the dog, the more likely you are going to see dental problems. There are exceptions to the rule, for example big greyhounds can often have lots of tartar and gingivitis and smaller Jack Russell terriers often have beautiful mouths. When I see a small dog with a nice mouth, I comment on the dog’s good luck, and that it’s very nice to see.

Now down to practicalities and how to care for your dog’s mouth. If he/she will let you work in their mouth, that’s half the battle right there. The other half is you. Often we end up laying in bed at night going over all the things that we didn’t get done and the dog’s teeth might come to mind, and with a sigh of guilt, we promise to try again tomorrow, and as we all know, tomorrow never comes. Here’s concept #2: show yourself and the world how much you love your dog by denying yourself something, some daily pleasure, until the dog’s teeth are dealt with. You pick the event in time that will not happen until the dog’s mouth gets addressed—the morning coffee, a shower, a walk—anything regular that will spur your memory and conscience into action. Your veterinarian can advise you on which products to use, like dog toothpaste or mouthwash, and which techniques are best for you and your dog. You need to be regular, fairly brief (most dogs have short attention spans and get fed up), focus on the problem teeth, then give a reward.

When a dog has only a few teeth that need scaling (removal of tartar) and he/she is amenable to it, I clean the teeth in the exam room, usually on an annual basis.  If a dog will not allow his/her mouth to be looked at by anyone, then we have some options. First is sedation, where the dog is awake enough to still walk but is quiet enough to allow some minor scaling on a few affected teeth. If the dog has been fasted and still won’t allow scaling, we can proceed to light anesthesia, where the patient is laying still but lets us to our work. If the dog still has anxieties about the procedure we can deepen anesthesia to where we can get on with any procedure we need to get done. Any extractions must be done under anesthesia.

In recent years, the law in BC has ordained that groomers with training in cleaning dogs’ teeth are allowed to scale off the visible tartar. At face value, it’s a good thing to remove this tartar because it is filth and a foothold for more bacteria. It is vital that when the groomer finds loose teeth or significant gum disease to refer the dog on to their veterinarian, who has the training and equipment to deal with more complex issues. In the ideal scenario, the owner, groomer and veterinarian all work together for the optimal care of the dog, keeping communication open and discussing options.

Veterinarians have superb equipment to deal with dental issues; ultrasonic scalers, low speed polishers, high speed drills, as well as manual instruments for scaling, elevating, and extracting. Antibiotics and medications for pain control are prescribed when necessary. We can radiograph (x-ray) tooth roots to evaluate hidden disease – this is usually done during a dental procedure, under anesthesia, as our four-legged friends don’t sit still for radiographs like people do. If there are more complex issues, such as root canal or tooth capping, we can set you up with a referral to a veterinary dentist, as one regularly comes to the Central Island Veterinary Emergency Hospital (

If you get the gist of this conversation, you can see that we veterinarians, like dentists, are trying to work ourselves out of a job: we want all dogs to have happy lives, with mouths that are clean and free of bacteria and disease. We can grab the bull by the horns and fix any dental problem, but it’s in the hands of many owners who have the power to give their pet a comfortable mouth.  If your dog is one of those that will not let anyone in there (and we know the type!), we have safe anesthesia that will help us get the job done.

*Photo: Copyright Island Farm & Garden Magazine

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