Some pet owners feel that tooth loss in dogs is an inevitable part of growing older, but it doesn't have to happen. As a veterinarian, it's disheartening to have to extract teeth that have become loose due to periodontal disease which we know could have been prevented through timely dental cleanings.
The ideal would be for a dog owner to brush their dog's teeth daily, which would prevent the majority of plaque and tartar buildup on dogs' teeth, but we know that most owners are not going to do that.
The next line of defense is feeding hard kibble food instead of soft foods, and giving appropriate chew toys to help clean teeth. Some chew toys and treats don't clean teeth very well, and some are too hard and may actually damage teeth, so consult your pet's doctor about what's appropriate for your pet.
The oral examination that accompanies a health maintenance examination is a very important component of a dog's overall health care. If oral disease is detected early enough and appropriate treatment is done when it's needed (not months or years later), oral health can be maintained and the pet's lifespan and quality of life can be enhanced.
If you get a tooth perfectly clean, bacteria in the mouth will begin to colonize the tooth surface within a matter of hours. Those bacteria produce a film over the tooth surface and begin to cause food particles to adhere to the tooth surface. This soft buildup is called plaque. Next will come mineralization of the plaque layer into a hard substance called tartar.
The plaque and tartar that are visible on the crown of the tooth actually don't cause that much trouble. It's what's going on at and below the gum line that is the real problem. The bacteria and the products that they produce damage the gums and progress into an infection of this soft tissue.
This infection can then extend into the bone supporting the tooth root, and once too much of the bone is gone, the tooth will become loose. The tooth will eventually fall out if nothing is done to stop the process. This is a long time (years) after the start of the process, and can be avoided if the dog has proper dental care when it's needed.
A veterinarian who is faced will loose teeth that have become that way because of bone loss around the tooth root has essentially no choice but to extract the tooth to at least stop the ongoing infection in the dog's mouth, since the bone is never going to regenerate and the infection in the mouth can travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
One example of that would be an infection on a heart valve that causes the valve to become rough and start to leak. Many of the heart murmurs we detect in older dogs are caused this way, and could be prevented. Once a heart valve begins to leak, the path to congestive heart failure is started.
If a dog's teeth are cleaned properly above and below the gum line at the proper time, the destruction of the gum tissue and bone around the roots never occurs and the teeth never get loose. Sedation or general anesthesia is required to clean teeth properly. Just popping off tartar that's visible above the gum line misses the most serious part of the problem and can give a false sense of security. Loose teeth and tooth loss are signs of advanced and long-standing periodontal disease.
When your pet's doctor recommends a dental cleaning or other oral care, realize that it's for more than a bright smile and fresh breath. Taking care of your pet's mouth can help protect the whole body, and needs to be done at the right time to give the maximum benefit.