Dentistry is a rapidly changing area of veterinary science, as the high incidence of dental disease in pets becomes recognised. We have seen a greater awareness over the last 25 years of its importance to the overall health of your animals.
Just like humans, your pets’ teeth need looking after too! The health of their teeth and gums has a significant impact on their overall quality of life. Imagine how your mouth would feel, and smell, if you never brushed your teeth. Imagine having a really bad toothache and not being able to tell anyone about it!
Recent studies suggest that by 3 years of age, between 70 and 85% of dogs and cats will have some dental disease!
Dental disease begins with a build up of bacteria in your pet’s mouth. Bacteria, combined with saliva and food debris, can cause plaque to accumulate on the tooth. Plaque sticks to the tooth surface both above and below the gum line, and if not removed will harden and calcify into tartar (also known as calculus). This appears as a yellow-brown material on your pet's teeth. Without proper preventive care, plaque and tartar build-up leads to periodontal disease, which affects the tissues and structures supporting the teeth. Periodontal disease causes pain, and ultimately tooth loss. Once infection is established in the gums, it can also spread to other organs, especially the heart and kidneys, causing organ failure. While the early changes and tartar build-up are reversible, more severe changes with loss of tooth attachments are irreversible.
Common signs of dental disease you may see in your pet, in order of severity, include:
- Yellow-brown tartar around the gum line
- Inflamed, red gums
- Bad breath
- Change in eating or chewing habits (especially in cats)
- Pawing at the face or mouth
- Excessive drooling
- Missing teeth
- Pain or bleeding when you touch the gums or mouth
If your pet is showing any of these signs of dental disease please book an appointment to see your veterinarian. Early assessment and action can save your pet’s teeth!
How can tartar be removed?
Once dental disease is present, your pet will need to have their teeth cleaned under anaesthetic to remove the tartar and plaque build-up. Other management options can then be instituted to prevent further dental disease developing. the
How can I prevent dental disease?
We are offering a complimentary Dental Program to help you prevent dental issues in your pet. You can start the program after a dental scale and polish if that is required, or you may start the program as a way to stop any dental issues developing. The dental program involves nurse consults every 6 months to monitor your pet's dental health, and to keep on top of any early issues that are detected. During the program, we will create your pet's personal dental plan, and discuss with you how to prevent dental disease from developing.
Long-term control and prevention of dental disease requires regular home care. The best way to begin this is to accustom your pet to accept handling of the mouth and brushing of the teeth from an early age. Dental home care may include:
- Brushing teeth daily – just like us! This is the best form of dental hygiene that you can implement at home. Pet toothbrushes and toothpaste are now readily available, in a variety of flavours depending on your pet's taste. Please do not use human toothpaste formulas on your pet as they are not designed to be swallowed and may be toxic. By introducing teeth brushing early and gently, your pet should come to accept this as part of their daily routine.
- Feed your pet a special dental diet. This can help reduce the accumulation of tartar by acting as a mechanical cleaner to remove built-up plaque.
- Use dental toys, enzymatic chews, or teeth cleaning biscuits, all of which may help keep the teeth clean. Raw bones can also help, but you must take care to ensure the bone is big enough to be chewed on rather than being swallowed.
Regular and frequent attention to your pet's teeth may avoid the need for a professional dental clean under anaesthetic, and will also improve your pet's overall health.
What does a professional dental clean involve?
A dental clean is the same as a scale and polish done by a dentist for us. However, unlike us, your pet won’t sit still or open their mouth to allow a comprehensive cleaning of their teeth willingly. For this reason, pets need to have a general anaesthetic for a professional dental clean.
Your pet will need to be assessed by your veterinarian before coming in for a dental clean. The degree of dental disease will be assessed to determine if extractions, antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications will be required. The assessment may also include a physical exam, blood tests and urine tests to ensure they are healthy prior to having an anaesthetic. Once anaesthetised, we give the teeth a thorough cleaning using specialised dental equipment. Any plaque or tartar is removed using an ultrasonic scaler, then the teeth are polished smooth to help prevent further build-up of plaque.
If periodontal disease is severe, and there is loss of tooth attachments or the tooth is loose, extractions will be needed. If this is required, your pet may also need to have some dissolvable stitches placed to close the gaps left behind following the extractions.
When your pet goes home, your veterinary nurse will also discuss methods of reducing dental disease in the future. You will have a revisit appointment with either a nurse or veterinarian about 1 week after the dental to ensure all is healing well and to discuss a plan for future control of dental disease. You will then go onto our dental program, with 6 monthly checks to monitor your pet's teeth and to help you prevent further dental problems in your pet.
If you have any questions about dental care or professional cleaning please do not hesitate to contact your veterinary clinic.