Just like humans, our pets are vulnerable to gum disease and problems with their teeth. Alarmingly, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats suffer from some form of dental disease by the age of three.
When there is a build up of bacteria, food particles and saliva on the teeth, plaque is formed. Plaque sticks to the tooth surface above and below the gum line and if not removed will calcify into tartar (also known as calculus). This appears as a hard yellow-brown material on the teeth. Over time the bacterial infection in tartar causes irreversible changes to occur. These include the destruction of supportive tissues and bone, resulting in red gums, bad breath and loosening of teeth. This same bacterial infection is also a source of infection for the rest of the body (such as the kidney, liver and heart) and can make your pet seriously ill. Ultimately, dental disease results in many pets unnecessarily suffering tooth loss, gum infection and pain. It also has the potential to shorten your pet’s lifespan.
What if my pet has dental disease?
Firstly, you should have your pet's teeth examined by one of our veterinarians on a regular basis and if necessary, follow up with a professional dental clean. Your pet needs to be anaesthetised to carry out a thorough dental examination, and to clean all teeth without distressing them. Once anaesthetised, a complete dental examination is carried out. This process involves charting all present teeth and evaluating their condition, including the degree of tartar, gingivitis (gum inflammation) and any pockets in the gums around the teeth. Our veterinarians will then remove the tartar above the gumline using a special ultrasonic scaler, just like a dentist uses for our teeth. The teeth are then polished using a dental polisher and specialised fine-grade paste. If the dental disease is not severe, the procedure will end here. However, if certain teeth are so severely affected they cannot be saved, extractions will be necessary. In some cases, gum surgery is required to close the holes left behind when a tooth is extracted, and dissolvable stitches are used for this procedure. Once all dental work is completed, your pet may be given an antibiotic and a pain relief injection, the anaesthetic gas is turned off, and your pet is allowed to wake up. Pets are generally able to go home on the same day.
Following a professional dental clean, a plan needs to be implemented to minimise build up of tartar again, and will depend on the severity of your pet’s dental disease. This may involve regular tooth brushing, feeding raw meaty bones and/or a special diet.
What are the factors that can contribute to a pet developing dental problems?
- Poor oral hygiene – without proper preventative care, plaque and tartar can accumulate and lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease
- Breed – Overcrowded or misaligned teeth are more often a problem for smaller breeds of dogs and can encourage periodontal disease.
- Food – Feeding your pet on soft food can lead to a more rapid accumulation of plaque. Most regular dry dog or cat foods do very little to clean teeth and while they are better than tinned foods, often do not encourage enough chewing.
- Age – Dental disease occurs more commonly as pets get older.
What does regular dental hygiene involve?
1) Chewing on something substantial every day for 5 minutes is nearly as good as brushing daily.
- Raw bones – these are economical, natural and the best choice. Most dogs enjoy them and a number of cats can be trained to eat them. The bone needs to be big enough to last at least five minutes (e.g. a raw chicken wing/neck for a dog or small cat, school whiting or white bait is an alternative for cats, lamb flaps/shanks for medium to large dogs, necks and marrow bones for large dogs).
- Rawhide - in their various forms are wonderful for cleaning teeth.
- Pigs ears, dried kangaroo products or other by-products
- Dentabones/Greenies (remember these need to last for 5 minutes of chewing)
- Chew toys – e.g. Kongs come in a form that encourage chewing
2) Brushing the teeth daily for 2 minutes with a soft children’s toothbrush or a finger toothbrush for small dogs or cats. This is generally as good as if not better than chewing bones, however it must be done daily which can be tedious and time consuming. Pet toothpaste must be used as human toothpastes are not supposed to be swallowed, however pet toothpastes are safe to be swallowed. There are various animal friendly flavours available. Many pets will not allow a thorough brushing initially, however a surprising number of animals will allow their teeth to be brushed if they are trained over time. Try it as part of a routine with a reward afterwards e.g. done prior to dinner or a bone/treat.
3) Prescription diets – There are a few brands of premium dry food diets that will aid in the prevention of tartar accumulation. (e.g. Hills T/D, Royal Canin Dental). They are different from other dry pet foods in that the kibbles are larger and do not shatter immediately when bitten into. Instead, the tooth penetrates the kibble and deposits of plaque and other debris are wiped from the surface. These are generally complete and balanced foods and can be fed daily as the sole diet without the need for supplements.
4) Oral antiseptic solutions (e.g. Maxiguard Oral Gel) – there are a number of different products available that act to inhibit bacteria in a similar way to mouth wash for people. These are placed in the mouth once daily and are helpful to inhibit plaque formation but will not replace chewing or brushing.
5) Regular scale and polish – This can be done every 12-18 months for those animals for which the above methods are unsuccessful.
6) Regular dental checks – We recommend annual dental checks which are usually performed at your pet’s annual check up and vaccinations. This way we can identify disease early and your pet’s oral hygiene can be monitored effectively.
All of these methods can be used in conjunction to achieve the best results for your pet’s dental health.