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, including the taking of full-mouth dental x-rays, which allows us to see beneath the gumline and assess the tooth roots and bone condition.
We will then note down all present teeth on a dental chart and include any condition(s), 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 and below the gumline using a special ultrasonic scaler and special dental hand scalers or curettes, 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 that they cannot be saved, extractions will be necessary. This then becomes an oral surgery.
The vet will administer local nerve blocks prior to removal of any teeth to ensure adequate pain relief during and after the procedure.
Large teeth often need to be cut into sections with a specialised dental drill to enable complete removal, and in some cases, gum stitches are 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, 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.
For information on a typical dental at our hospital click this LINK
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 every day for 5 minutes can be of benefit for disrupting plaque deposits on the teeth, however we do not recommend anything that's too hard as this can cause other problems, such as broken teeth.
Dentastix, Greenies, Whimzees and Dentalife chews are great options. (Both Dentalife and Greenies also have chewy treats for cats!)
Chew toys – e.g. Many Kongs and Fresheeze toys come in a form that encourages chewing
TIP when selecting a chew for your dog: "The Fingernail trick" - if you can leave an indent with your fingernail in the treat then it is safe for chewing, if you can't then the treat is too hard and we wouldn't recommend allowing your pet to chew it.
2) Brushing the teeth once or twice daily for 2 minutes with a soft children’s toothbrush or a finger toothbrush for small dogs or cats. This is the best thing we can do for our pets oral health. Pet toothpaste must be used as human toothpastes are not safe for pets and are not supposed to be swallowed, however pet toothpastes are pet-safe and able 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.
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) Water Additives (e.g. OxyFresh) - Special solutions that can be added to a pets drinking water daily to help cleanse their teeth and freshen their breath. Most water additives are flavourless so your pet shouldn't even realise it's in their bowl.
6) Regular professional scale and polish – This can be done every 6-18 months for those animals for which the above methods are unsuccessful.
7) 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.