The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Yorkshire Terriers" by Dr. Joanna de Kler, DVM. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.
Author Credit: Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM
Importance of Dental Care
While the Yorkshire Terrier is generally a hardy little dog, its teeth are one of its downfalls. Like many other small-breed dogs, dental disease is a common occurrence and most owners will have to make decisions regarding dental interventions at some point in their Yorkie’s life. Therefore, it is imperative that you take a positive stance against dental disease from when you first acquire your dog, and make a conscious effort to prevent the deterioration of his teeth throughout his lifetime.
The tooth is a bony structure which sits in a socket of the maxilla (upper jaw) or mandible (lower jaw). Dogs have 42 adult teeth, but initially start off with 28 deciduous (baby) teeth. A tooth is like an iceberg, where only a small portion of it is visible. The visible portion is called the crown, and the portion which sits in the socket is called the root. The tooth is held in the socket by periodontal ligaments, which are extremely strong. The outside of the tooth is covered in a protective layer called enamel. Finally, the center of the tooth has a fleshy area called the pulp where numerous nerves reside, hence why tooth pain is so uncomfortable.
Yorkie-Specific Dental Issues
Residual Deciduous Teeth
Before the adult teeth come through at roughly one year of age, the mouth is full of baby teeth, known as deciduous teeth. As the adult teeth begin to erupt, they are supposed to push the deciduous teeth out of their socket. Most owners will never notice their dogs’ teeth come out as they will be lost or swallowed, but for the Yorkshire Terrier, sometimes they won’t come out at all.
When the adult tooth erupts next to the deciduous tooth, the mouth becomes clustered with unnecessary teeth. While this usually doesn’t cause much pain for the dog, the deciduous tooth must be removed, as food can easily become impacted in between the teeth and lead to decay and permanent damage to the adult tooth.
Most owners opt to have any residual deciduous teeth removed at the time of neutering, so that only one anesthetic is needed. The deciduous teeth only have shallow roots into the gum, making removal a quick and simple procedure.
Clustered Adult Teeth
Yorkshire Terriers have extremely small mouths to fit all their teeth in. Some Yorkies therefore end up with clustered adult teeth, especially the incisors at the front, or the molars at the very back. The incisors sit in shallow sockets, so if the teeth are clustered, they may fall out easily. It is not an uncommon sight to see a gappy Yorkie, but even though it may look unusual, if the teeth have just fallen out due to clustering, it is of no detriment to the Yorkie.
Gingivitis and Plaque
Gingivitis is the term used for describing inflammation to the gums. This is usually in response to plaque buildup. Yorkshire Terriers are a breed that suffers with excessive plaque on their teeth, which tends to aggregate on the base of the tooth, around the tooth-gum junction.
Plaque is a buildup of excess food material and bacteria, and can be smelly and foul tasting to the dog. This is the main cause of bad breath. When plaque is in contact with the gums, the body sends white blood cells to the area to fight the bacteria, but this in turn causes inflammation in the gums. Yorkshire Terriers tend to accumulate more plaque than other breeds, and as a result, their gums become very inflamed and painful.
Premature Tooth Loss
Yorkshire Terriers are prone to premature loss of their adult teeth. Most dogs only start losing their teeth when their age reaches double figures, if they lose their teeth at all; however, Yorkies may start losing adult teeth as young as five years old.
Tooth loss is mainly attributed to chronic inflammation of the gums, as this will weaken the periodontal ligament which holds the tooth in the socket.
Dogs can eat food very successfully with very few teeth, so this should not be a worry for the owner, but the process of losing a tooth can be uncomfortable for several months during the period that the tooth is wobbly, so it is important to try to avoid tooth loss all together. A dog happily eating is not a sign that there is no dental disease. Many dogs will continue to eat despite their mouth being uncomfortable.
Preventative Dental Care
Dogs do not naturally accept routine dental care, unless they have been trained to perceive it as a positive experience. It is prudent to start dental care from a puppy so they learn that it is part of everyday life, and make it a fun experience with lots of playtime and positive interactions afterward. Dental care can take many forms; examining, brushing, treats, and mouthwash.
Examining the mouth for plaque buildup should be done on a monthly basis. Some dogs do not tolerate owners or veterinarians looking in their mouths, but this is usually because they are not used to it.
To examine the teeth, firstly lift up the front lips to look at the incisors. Plaque, which is a gray or brown sticky buildup at the gum line, decay, tooth discoloration, or redness of the gums should be noted.
Next, the corner of the cheek should be pulled far back to examine the premolars and molars for the same issues on both sides.
Finally, the mouth should be opened wide from the front, to look on the inside of the teeth.
Some veterinarians will also feel the submandibular lymph nodes during their dental check. These are two spherical structures around the area of the curve of the jaw. If the lymph nodes are enlarged, it usually means they are reactive to bacteria in the mouth. These are not usually routinely felt by owners, and require training to learn what is normal or abnormal.
Brushing the teeth should be done at least every other day. Many owners neglect brushing their dog’s teeth, but if the effort is put in to brush them just for one minute, several times per week for their whole lives, it has been proven to significantly reduce the risk of dental disease later in life.
Brushing should be done with a toothpaste specifically for dogs. They are usually poultry or beef flavored and contain enzymes which aid in dissolving the plaque off the teeth. Human toothpaste should never be used. The foaming agent in human toothpaste can cause liver damage to dogs, and if xylitol has been added, which is a sugar-free sweetener, this can cause the dog’s blood glucose to drop dangerously low.
For dogs who have not been trained to have their teeth brushed from a young age, and do not tolerate it well, simply smearing the toothpaste on the teeth several times a week will be significantly more beneficial than doing nothing at all.
Brushing can be carried out with either a dog toothbrush or a finger brush. Dog toothbrushes come in a variety of sizes and understandably, the Yorkie needs the smallest size available. Ensure that all teeth are brushed, especially the back teeth which are often missed, both on the inside and the outside.
There are many dental treats on the market which can be bought to aid dental health. The premise behind them it that they cause friction to the outside of the tooth, thereby removing plaque buildup.
When selecting a dental treat for a Yorkie, a small-breed dog chew is the most appropriate. One-size-fits-all-type chews will be less effective, as your Yorkie may not be able to get his mouth around it in an appropriate way, and therefore not bite down effectively enough for the chew to do its work.
Some people prefer more natural dental treats, rather than manufactured treats. Knuckle bones are not advised, even though chewing them will aid in scraping off the plaque, as they are prone to splintering or pieces breaking off, which if ingested, can cause blockages or damage to the intestine.
A good alternative to knuckle bones are deer antlers. These are usually sourced from ethical culling operations, and while they can be pricey, they last a very long time. Deer antlers do not splinter or break into pieces, and dogs enjoy gnawing on the projections. They usually are cut up into different sized pieces. The best piece to choose for a Yorkie would be on the smaller side, but not small enough for it to be eaten whole if there are larger dogs within the household as well. The antler should be discarded before it has been gnawed down small enough to be swallowed.
In addition to treats, dry commercial dog food or dental-specific dog food will aid the process of removing plaque and preventing its buildup as well.
It is important to remember that any additional calories which are given in the form of treats should be compensated for when considering how much food a dog should have when fed their meals.
Like human toothpaste, dogs must never consume human mouthwash either. However, there are mouthwash-style products which can be used to help fight plaque in dogs. These liquid products are usually added in small volumes to drinking water, and work on the same premise as dog toothpaste; they are filled full of enzymes which aid in dissolving the plaque off the teeth or stop more plaque from forming.
Dental care should be adhered to on a regular basis for Yorkshire Terriers, since they are prone to so many dental problems. If it is not, most Yorkies will need to have a dental procedure during their lifetime.
Dental procedures are carried out by veterinarians under general anesthetic. Usually the procedure will only require a day visit to the vet. A general anesthetic will be required because sharp tools and scalers will be in the mouth of the dog; therefore, it would be impossible and dangerous if the dog was in a state where he could move. The dog will need to be brought to the vet in the morning having not had any food, to avoid any vomiting during the anesthetic.
The veterinarian will start by examining all the teeth with a probe to understand which ones are loose or have pockets into the socket where the periodontal ligament is no longer effective. These will be marked for extraction at a later part of the procedure.
Next, he will use a scaler to remove all plaque from the outside of the teeth. The scaler squirts water during the scaling process so that the teeth do not warm up too much from the friction, and that all plaque is washed out the mouth. Scaling the teeth will leave them pearly white like a puppy again.
Now that all the bacteria have been removed in the plaque, any teeth that need to be extracted can be taken out. This is only done after scaling because if the mouth is full of bacteria, then bacteria can be embedded deeper in the gumline during the extraction process, which in turn can cause nasty oral infections. The extraction process can be tricky if some of the tooth is still firmly attached to the periodontal ligament. A sharp tool, called an elevator, is slowly run around the tooth root to weaken the ligament until it is wobbly enough to be pulled out.
If the tooth has left a large socket, the veterinarian may choose to flush out the socket and then stitch it closed. Not all veterinarians do this, due to the worry of stitching in a deep infection; however, if the mouth is sufficiently flushed, then the benefits may outweigh the risks. The healing time is significantly shortened by stitching closed, and if it is stitched closed, then no food will get stuck in the pocket when the dog eats.
Finally, the teeth are polished with an abrasive paste to ensure they are as clean as they possibly can be. This paste usually has a nice flavor to it and aids in freshening the breath of the dog.
Even though having a dental procedure may seem stressful to both you and your Yorkshire Terrier, the long-term benefits massively outweigh the stress. Dental disease is not pleasant, and your dog experiencing it is likely to have toothache and a constant foul taste in his mouth. By routine home dental care, and a dental procedure later in life if needed, his mouth can stay as clean and pain-free as possible, leading to a happy dog and happy you.
To read more from "The Complete Guide to Yorkshire Terriers" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below: