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Dental Care

Maltese Dental Care

Cleaning and Common Issues

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Little buddy, at 3 years old
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Agostino

Overview

Taking care of a dog's teeth is vital for good health, yet is sadly overlooked by many owners.

Often, owners only take note once a dental issue has developed. For this reason, you'll want to start your Maltese on an at-home preventative dental care program as soon as possible, and bring him for professional care as needed.

This section will discuss steps you can take to help prevent tooth decay and keep your Maltese's teeth healthy. 

We will also discuss some common problems and what is involved with taking your dog in for a 'full dental' at the veterinarian's office.

The saying of 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' never held so true than in regard to a dog's oral health.  

Milk Teeth

The 28 milk teeth, also known as deciduous, baby, or puppy teeth, start to erupt from gums at the 3-week mark and are generally fully emerged by the 8-week mark. 

These will begin loosening and falling out starting at the 3.5 to 4.5 month mark for the Maltese breed.

This is known as the teething phase in which the 28 deciduous are replaced by 42 permanent adult teeth. 

Though a Maltese puppy's milk teeth are temporary, you will still want to provide at-home dental care. 

This is because what you do at the puppy stage sets the foundation for the rest of your Maltese's life. 
Taking care of the teeth helps a pup become accustomed to the routine care he will need as an adult, and will work to keep gums healthy for his adult set. 

Why Keeping a Maltese's Teeth Clean is Important

When your Maltese is done teething, he will have 42 tiny adult teeth. Hopefully, you have already been taking care of his teeth and keeping them clean; he will need them forever. However, it is never too late to start.

If teeth are not kept clean, quite a bit can happen.

Here are some facts to know:
  • All day - around the clock - plaque is being produced. It is a clear, sticky substance that clings to teeth. 
  • If it is not cleared away it will begin to harden into tartar. This process may begin in as little as 3 days. Tartar often has a yellow or brown tint, and is even more difficult to remove then plaque.
  • Both plaque and tartar eat away at any enamel surface that they come into contact with. 
  • It can, and often does, travel under the gum line, where it is out of sight but very destructive. 
  • As tooth decay is slowly causing teeth to rot, infection can set in. This can be an abscess and/or infection can spread up to the sinuses or even cause a full-body sepsis infection that can reach vital organs. 
  • Periodontal disease, which includes both gingivitis (gums are in a weakened state with inflammation and reddening) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth) is a top concern. 
  • Decayed teeth will eventually rot to such a degree that they loosen and fall out.
  • Needless to say, all of this comes with a good amount of pain, and an older dog that is missing teeth will have trouble eating. Inability to chew food is a top concern for such a tiny breed. 
  • Chewing on toys is not sufficient enough to keep a dog's teeth properly cleaned. Luckily, there are easy methods that will work. 

How to Keep your Maltese's Teeth Clean and Healthy

If you have an adult Maltese and he/she has never had their teeth examined by the veterinarian, you will want to have this done first in order to rule out any current issues. Then, you can start with a clean slate.

No matter if you just obtained a Maltese puppy or if your adult Maltese has been part of your family for a while, now is the time to get into the habit of caring for the teeth. 

There are 4 basic parts to good at-home care:

1. Use a quality canine toothpaste. Never use human paste, as the fluoride in it is toxic to dogs.

Choose a canine toothpaste that does not have any foaming agents. This is because soaping agents can cause issues since canines have no choice but to swallow toothpaste. It can also help to use one with a tempting flavor such as chicken or vanilla which seems to be a favorite of many dogs. 
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Roxie, at 1 year old, photo courtesy of Dale Lefevre
2. Use a properly sized, quality canine toothbrush. This can be tricky, since the Maltese breed is so tiny. Some larger adults (6 or 7 lbs.) may do well with a brush sized for toy breed dogs. 

So another option is to use a finger-toothbrush. This is a small rubber piece that slips over your pointer finger, often allowing an easier way to scrub. 

You will want to brush your Maltese's teeth on a regular basis. The more you do this, the more accustomed your dog will become to it.  Ideally, you'll want to have a daily 3 to 5 minute session. 

Tip: If your Maltese shows an intolerance to having his teeth brushed, start slowly. Choose the same time each day to handle him. Find a quiet spot without disturbances.  For the first week or two, just hold him in your lap and gently run a finger over his teeth. 

The next week, add a dollop of your chosen toothpaste, still using your finger. After another week, you should be able to graduate to the finger-brush or a small toothbrush. 
close-up-of-maltese
Zuri, photo courtesy of Dale Glasser
3. Give a daily dental treat. These are specifically designed to help remove plaque and tartar. This is done via both the consistency of the chew and shape of it. 

A very effective and safe one to try is Virbac's VeggieDent Chews.
These have been awarded the Seal of Acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council for removing and preventing plaque and tartar. 

Additionally, these are a safe plant-based chew with no wheat gluten and no animal protein, and are sized nicely for small dogs. 

Tip: A quality dental chew will taste great, so offer this to your Maltese just as you would any other yummy treat. 

It is always recommended to offer treats as rewards for good behavior. So, you can give this after a bathroom trip, if your Maltese listens to a command, etc. 
4. For an extra boost for good oral health, you may want to consider a plaque removing water supplement.
These are tasteless liquid formulas that are added to a dog's water bowl. Typically, it is 1 teaspoon for each 8 ounce cup of water. These can help kill bacteria both in the mouth and in the bowl, and can be an added bonus in a dog's oral care plan.
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Full Dentals at the Veterinarian's Office

A 'full dental' consists of a comprehensive dental exam involving x-rays to diagnose any issues, followed by a cleaning, a scraping to remove any plaque or tartar under the gum line, and a rinse. For this, a dog needs to be sedated. 

Not all dogs need to have this sort of procedure; it all depends on the state of their teeth. Typically, if this is done one time and an owner is very conscientious about at-home dental care, it may not need to be repeated.

Since at-home care cannot cure an infection or reverse tooth decay, if you suspect that your Maltese is having an issue, you'll want the veterinarian to examine him. Signs include trouble chewing and/or refusing to eat.

For moderate to severe tooth decay, options are extraction or a root canal. Of course, extractions are less expensive, but can affect a dog's bite set. Your vet will discuss the pros and cons, and offer his recommendation. 

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