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Our dog is the best thing we got. He is generally healthy. He turns 10 in May. His teeth, especially his underbite front row (quite common for Shih Tzus), are getting brown. If you open his mouth there is a lot of brown, caramel color scattered across from front to back.

We've always been very scared of taking him to a professional cleaning because there's a chance of what I don't want to talk about. And I was told a while ago that the risk of this increases with age.

A few important facts:

  • He generally won't let us co-operate in letting us brush his teeth with his toothbrush and chicken flavor toothpaste. I think this has got worse as he was teased and as he's got older is more prone to bite you if you put it in his mouth.
  • Our vet suggested using a third party company which does teeth cleaning without anesthetizing. They are from California and were travelling across the country and happened to be near our area. Our dog was not cooperative with them.
  • Our vet recommends the anesthesia route but I am not comfortable.
  • Our vet also recommends instead giving our dog some anti anxiety medicine and trying to clean after this ourselves with a toothbrush.

How dangerous is poor dental health? What would you advise if I don't want to go the anesthesia route (as I'm fearful of the risk I mentioned above). Any toothbrushing tips would be welcome. There was one vet who once told me that I should use my nails to scrape off the dirt on his teeth and he made it look easy but I haven't tried to replicate this

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    My vet just sent out a reminder that poor dental hygiene can lead to serious systemic infections, including heart damage. I have tried, and so far failed, to establish a regular tooth-cleaning regimen with my cats -- one doesn't like the taste of the enzyme toothpaste enough to stop protesting, and the other tries to lick it off my fingers before I can get it onto the teeth. – keshlam Apr 10 '15 at 22:02
  • Does your dog like treats? The reason I ask - there are a range of natural and manufactured treats that are designed to help with dental health. – andrewbuilder Apr 15 '15 at 3:20
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If your vet is recommending this, then perhaps you should trust your vet. If your vet cannot do it, you can try a different vet in your area, though I wouldn't go with a traveling vet like you described.

Consider that if your teeth were so bad that they were rotting away, would you prefer your dog to suffer with this pain through the rest of his life, or would you chance something that can alleviate that pain from a professional administrator?

I have a 14-year-old dachshund, who has had his teeth cleaned several times during his life, the last time when he was 13. During the last time, they found he had hollowed a tooth out that had to be removed. Since then, he's been fine. He has had to get anesthesia each time, and came out perfectly.

The only way to truly keep your dog's mouth clean and not-smelly is to start with a professional veterinary teeth cleaning, then continue with daily or bi-daily brushing and an anti-plaque rinse spray (I use CET). I have, as your vet advised, been able to get a nail under some plaque and chip it down and off, but that is tough to do, rough on your nails, and my dog has been less than compliant.

As stated, I've owned three dogs, and each one has had at least one professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia with no issues.

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I had an elderly cat that we anesthetized for dental work and as a result he started to have GI problems. We had him put to sleep shortly afterwards for quality of life concerns. It is a difficult decision, and if something happens (either way) you will probably never stop kicking yourself for not making the other decision. I try to tell myself that I made the best decision that I could. These are the questions that I asked my vet:

  • What are the possible outcomes if we DO NOT do the cleaning?
  • What are the possible outcomes if we DO the cleaning?
  • How likely are these outcomes?
  • Can we mitigate the likelihood of these outcomes in any way?
  • How will these outcomes affect his quality of life?

My experience in detail:

In the case of my cat (Chance), there was evidence in his bloodwork that he had systemic infections and we believed his poor mouth condition was the cause of the infections. We could give him antibiotics, but unless we removed the rotting teeth, the infections would not likely be cured. In addition, he had trouble eating and we suspected that mouth pain was part of the problem.

His age was unknown (suspected late teens based on condition, but he had just been picked up off the street). He was missing a bunch of teeth already, and had kidney issues, so we decided to have the remaining teeth removed. This would remove the possibility that we would be considering dental work again in a short period of time (kidney disease and Siamese type cats are both risk factors for periodontal disease).

We did preliminary bloodwork and a physical examination to determine if there were any other physical problems that we were unaware of. If he had a heart condition (or probably any additional illness) there would have been too much risk, but we decided to go ahead.

Ultimately, he did not react well to the anesthesia. Even so, the alternative for Chance (had we not had the dental work done) was to continue to stress his body fighting the systemic infection, while being in pain and having difficulty eating. I believe that we made the right decision.

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Remember that all they need is what human doctors call "twilight" anesthesia; enough that the animal is groggy and doesn't much care that it's being poked at. That's lower risk than full surgical anesthesia.

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I have had some success with dogs that came to me with bad teeth, by feeding lots of dried tripe (sometimes three or four sticks a day). Chewing the dried tripe sticks has a cleaning effect on the teeth and they are a lot more enthusiastic about it than toothbrushes! It's high in protein and low in fat, and also very digestible. The downside is it's a bit stinky, but most dogs seem to love it.

You can also feed raw bones for chewing, and that cleans teeth very effectively and smells much better than tripe - but I suggest you research this carefully before you decide to do it, as it's important to select bones that are unlikely to get swallowed whole or fracture and create sharp points. I usually go for lamb ribs, and freeze them before defrosting and feeding to my dogs.

I have had a dog come to me and be assessed as urgently needing a dental, but unable to have one due to other medical issues, and by the time the other medical issues are resolved, the dental is no longer needed because the dog has been polishing his teeth on dried tripe sticks and raw bones, so it's certainly worth a try.

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