We all learn as children the importance of looking after our teeth, but what about our pets? Our pets’ teeth require as much attention as our own, if we are to ensure they are to remain healthy throughout their lives. Extensive research surveys of the veterinary profession indicate that up to 75% of our cats and dogs have a degree of dental disease by the age of 3 years, and it remains one of the most common diseases seen in general veterinary practice.
Why does dental disease remain such a prevalent condition?
Firstly, many cats and dogs are able to carry on eating and drinking without apparent discomfort and it is only when the dental disease becomes advanced that it becomes obvious.
Secondly, many pet owners are reluctant to look into their pet’s mouth to inspect the teeth, and their pets may be less than keen to oblige!
Thirdly, some breeds and individuals have a genetic susceptibility to developing dental disease.
Lastly, many pet owners understandably would wish to avoid their pet having a general anaesthetic to examine and clean the teeth, and therefore may be tempted to delay dental treatment, unless it becomes advanced and is causing obvious discomfort. However the old adage “prevention is better
than cure” is particularly relevant to dental health.
What are the signs of dental disease?
Dogs and cats can exhibit a number of signs associated with dental disease depending on how advanced the disease process has become. They include:
- Reluctance to eat food, especially hard kibble and biscuits, and possibly favouring one side of the mouth.
- Bad breath.
- Drooling saliva.
- Sore and bleeding gums (gingivitis).
- Accumulation of plaque (brown deposit) on the surface of the teeth.
- Swelling on the outside of the face.
Why does dental disease develop?
Food material, bacteria and saliva are deposited naturally and continuously on the surface of the teeth and gums forming plaque, from a very early age.
As plaque accumulates, toxins produced by the plaque bacteria cause inflammation of the gum tissue, termed gingivitis. At the same time as this, the plaque may also become mineralised forming calculus (tartar) which is usually very tightly bonded to the tooth surface. This is also frequently
accompanied by very bad breath.
If gingivitis is allowed to go unchecked the plaque bacteria will start to penetrate below the gum line, leading to destruction of the bone and other tooth supporting structures, a condition termedperiodontitis. This is a far more serious condition and if left untreated, results in tooth loosening and
eventual tooth loss. Advanced dental disease can cause serious side effects such as heart disease and kidney disease from circulating bacteria.
What does a dental procedure involve?
Your pet will initially have a full health examination by one of our vets. It may be advised that a routine blood screen is taken to ensure that the kidneys and liver are functioning normal.
The procedure will require your pet to have a full general anaesthetic. The teeth will all be individually examined and inspected for any signs of abnormalities eg. “pockets” under gums for signs of periodontal disease, cavities, abnormal wear and fractures of the teeth . All findings are then
mapped on to a dental chart as a record. It is important to note that the health of your pet’s teeth cannot be fully evaluated until a full inspection under general anaesthetic has been performed.
The decision to remove a tooth is based on a number of factors including whether it is mobile, diseased, fractured or whether the tissues surrounding the tooth are diseased eg. abscess at the root of the tooth. Cats can suffer small cavities in the “neck” of the tooth at the gum line. These are
extremely painful and in the majority of cases, extraction is required. In some cases, an X-ray needs to be taken to make this decision. Delaware Veterinary Group would always seek permission for extraction of teeth wherever possible, preferably on your pet’s admission or by a telephone call.
All teeth are then descaled with an ultrasonic scaler especially under the gum line. Finally all teeth are polished to remove the microscopic scratches on the surface of the tooth, which encourage the re-formation of the plaque.
If extensive dental work was carried out then your pet would normally go home with further antibiotics and painkillers.
What steps should pet owners take to care for their pet’s teeth?
It is important to note that plaque will start to develop in just days after the “descale and polish” if home dental care programme is not initiated.
It is helpful at an early age to get your pets used to having their mouth opened and examined. This allows you to inspect the health of the teeth and gums, and makes it easier for the veterinary surgeons and nurses at your practice to inspect.
The gold standard of dental healthcare is to brush our pet’s teeth regularly once a day if possible. We appreciate that not all individuals will let you do this, but with perseverance and starting at an early age, success can be achieved. At our puppy and kitten nursing clinics at Delaware, we will demonstrate how to do this. Initially a small “thimble” sized finger brush can be used. With time, a small headed toothbrush or a specially adapted for pets electric toothbrush can be introduced. Please note that pet specific toothpaste is required which contains neither fluoride nor frothing agents.
The type of diet you feed your pet plays a role in dental care but it is not as a substitute for teeth brushing. In general, dried foods tend to be more suitable for teeth. Special dental diets have been formulated by leading pet food companies and have been shown to have a significant cleaning effect. Dental chews, tough cooked meat and fresh vegetables can all help.
A water additive can be added in low concentrations to the drinking water. This compound binds calcium, and also reduces the build-up of plaque.
Even if a rigorous dental home care plan is performed, as with our own teeth, a descale and polish may still be required after a period of time, to revert your pet’s teeth back to good health.
Do other pets have dental problems?
Although this article has centred on dental care in cats and dogs, other species often experience dental disease. Rabbits are regularly seen at our surgery, with either overgrown incisors or sharp hooks on their molars, that leads to difficulty eating. Genetics, husbandry and diet play a major role in rabbit dental disease. Horses also experience a range of dental health problems. Please contact our Equine Division based at Castle Cary, should you have any concerns for your horse.
How can Delaware Veterinary Group help?
The Delaware Dental Care Programme offers a fully comprehensive service to identify and treat dental disease, and then to actively encourage and maintain your pet’s dental health throughout their lifetime.
The Delaware Healthy Pet Scheme, as well as giving significant savings on all routine vaccinations, flea products and wormers, will also discount on preventative dentistry work and products, on a monthly payment plan.