Dental Disease in your Pet
Dental disease is very common in our pets, although it often goes unnoticed (who wants to look inside a mouth full of slobber and sharp fangs!). Our pets can't tell you they have bad dental disease and in fact most dogs and cats will continue to eat despite having rotten and quite painful teeth. The only thing you may notice is a smelly breath. Dental problems are, however, very serious as they can lead to chronic pain, teeth loss and jaw fractures. Bacterial infections associated with dental diseases may also spread to internal organs such as the heart and kidneys and may be life threatening. While serious dental problems are more common in older animals they may also occur in quite young animals, with some pets as young as 5 years of age requiring many extractions because of advanced dental disease. It is very important therefore that your pets’ teeth are regularly checked and any dental problems are attended to, and that preventative dental care becomes a part of your pets daily life.
Plague, Tartar and Gingivitis
Dental disease starts in our pets with the formation of plaque, the soft furry build-up of bacteria on the teeth. An early warning sign of plaque build up is bad breath (which many people mistakenly think is normal in dogs and cats). Plaque then mineralises to form the hard "baked-on” deposits called tartar that eventually pushes up below the gum to cause inflammation and infection known as gingivitis. This can be seen as swollen, red gums above the brown or yellow tartar. Gingivitis is a reversible disease, however if left to progress, the disease goes deeper into the tooth root structure to cause periodontitis which is irreversible and leads to the more serious problems mentioned above.
Stage 1 – Teeth Clean
The first step towards a healthy mouth is a "dental scale and polish” done here at the Surgery. This should happen when tartar has built up sufficiently enough to cause mild gingivitis. (We will tell you if this is needed when your pet comes in for their regular health check). During a short anaesthetic we will scrape away the hard tartar and polish the teeth so the enamel is smooth and shiny again. We will check your pets teeth for more serious problems, and sometimes prescribe antibiotics for the gingivitis. Your pet will return home that afternoon with shiny white teeth and fresh breath.
Just like us, a regular dental scale and polish is needed to stop our pets teeth deteriorating as they age, and should be done every 12 months. This also allows other preventative measures at home to be more effective.
Stage 2 – Home Cleaning
Once the hard tartar has been removed, home dental care for your pet can begin. This consists ideally with daily brushing, and foods that will help to remove plaque from the teeth before it turns into tartar. Brushing is quite easy in most pets if you know how. You will need a pet "finger brush” and pet toothpaste (no Colgate please!), and the right technique. Please ask us for a demo, as it can be done without opening the mouth and risking a nasty bite. There are also a variety of treats for our pets that will help remove plaque. For dogs, a large raw beef "knuckle bone” is best, but ask your butcher not to saw it down the middle. For smaller dogs, raw chicken wings are also OK. Avoid any cooked bones, bones that are sharp, or flat bones like ribs. Also avoid lamb shanks as these are more likely to crack teeth. There are also artificial bones and edible chews such as "Oravet" and "Greenies” that will help. For cats, chicken wings or large chunks of tough raw meat like chuck steak or Ox heart are the best. Although we call dry food "crunchies”, regular brands do not have a cleaning role, but Hills Pet Foods have "Oral Care” and the more heavy duty "T/D Prescription Diet” which actively brush the teeth as well as providing one of the best sources of nutrition you can get, and should be a part of every pets’ home dental care program. We can advise you just how to introduce your pet to one of these excellent dental diets.
Advanced Dental Disease
Cats and dogs that have more severe dental disease are still worthwhile attending to even if they are old, as the improvement in their quality of life afterwards can be astounding. We assess every tooth and extract those that cannot be saved and are causing pain and disease. The healthy teeth are cleaned and polished and we send your pet home with a plan to keep their teeth healthy from then on. Even if most of their teeth need removing, they will still be able to eat, and will thank you greatly for removing the source of their pain and disease.
Written by Dr Bronwen Thompson for Northgate Veterinary Surgery
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