Dental disease is one of the most, if not the most, common conditions diagnosed in pets age 3 or older. Because this disease is incredibly prevalent among cats and dogs, beginning dental care at an early age to ward off future periodontal problems makes sense. You know that a cavity or infected tooth can be extremely painful, and you certainly want to prevent your furry pal from experiencing that pain. 

Since plaque and tartar—the main dental disease culprits—can begin accumulating soon after your pet eats, dental disease obviously can occur much earlier than age 3. Turning 3 years old is no magical time when dental disease is suddenly present. Instead, dental disease is an ongoing process that grows in severity, starting from the moment your puppy or kitten takes their first bite. Also, depending on your pet’s breed, genetic background, dental health, and oral anatomy, they may develop dental disease much earlier than 3, and require early, frequent dental cleanings. For example, let’s look at Molly’s story.* 

Molly’s malocclusion

Molly is an 8-month old Yorkshire terrier puppy, who’s been classified by her family as the “teacup” variety. This pint-size pooch weighs only a few pounds, and seems more fluff than substance, but she still has a few sharp puppy teeth to make her presence known. At this age, all Molly’s deciduous teeth should have fallen out as her adult teeth grew in, but as a small-breed dog, Molly has been prone to dental issues from a young age.

Molly has two sets of canine teeth—a full deciduous set, and a full permanent set, making eight canine teeth total. Her tiny mouth was already jam-packed with teeth, and the additional four canines made it still more crowded. When Molly was spayed at 6 months of age, her primary care veterinarian suggested extracting the four persistent deciduous canines, since they showed no signs of root resorption and falling out. However, Molly’s owners wanted to wait longer to see if they would fall out on their own before turning to surgical extraction.

Two months after her spay, those stubborn canines showed no signs of letting go, and were causing issues with her permanent teeth. Molly’s adult canine teeth were growing in at incorrect angles, causing her difficulty when chewing and eating. Her owners finally noticed that Molly could not gnaw on her favorite chew toy, and scheduled an appointment for her with Dr. Weldon at the Animal Dental Clinic.

During her oral health exam, Molly was diagnosed with persistent deciduous teeth that had caused a malocclusion, leading to grade 2 dental disease. Although Molly was only 8 months old, she needed a professional dental cleaning to remove plaque and tartar, and reverse her gingivitis. She also needed the four persistent teeth extracted to help minimize future tartar accumulation around the adult canines, incisors, and first premolars, as these areas were extremely crowded, and more likely to trap food particles and debris. 

If Molly’s owners had waited until she was 3 years old, there’s a good chance their tiny dog would have needed several adult teeth extracted because of severe dental disease, including tooth-root and jawbone damage. Additionally, waiting for several years to repair the malocclusion from the persistent canine teeth would have damaged more teeth, potentially requiring more extractions and more extensive dental care.

*Molly is a fictitious pet, but her case is common among small-breed dogs.

While teaching your new pet to accept daily toothbrushing from the day you bring them home is an important part of their at-home dental care program, this must be paired with professional dental cleanings. A toothbrush cannot reach below the gumline, or scrub the tooth surfaces that are crowded too tightly in a small dog’s mouth. These areas need specialized dental instruments to ensure every speck of plaque and tartar is removed before they lead to irreversible dental disease. Although toy- and small-breed dogs live longer than large and giant breeds, they require professional dental care at a much younger age because of their oral anatomy—keep that in mind when welcoming a Yorkie or dachshund into your family.

Are you uncertain whether your furry pal is due for their professional dental cleaning? Schedule an oral health assessment with our Animal Dental Clinic team to stage your pet’s dental disease, and ensure their mouth remains healthy and pain-free.