Dental disease is a common problem in pets. In general dogs and cats suffer from tartar build-up as well as periodontal disease. Periodontal disease refers to disorders of the periodontium a.k.a the surrounding structures that support the teeth. Periodontal disease starts off with the formation of a thin coat on the teeth and gums. This coat is commonly referred to as plaque and contains bacteria and debris. If the plaque isn’t removed the minerals in the food forms hard tartar (calculus) which is then deposited on the teeth. Dental calculus leads to bacteria growth, irritation and inflammation around the gums and eventual dissolution of the supporting structures around the teeth, leading to dental pain and teeth eventually falling out.
It’s also important to remember that dental disease not only affects the mouth but also the rest of the body. Bacteria that accumulate in periodontal pockets can be translocated into the bloodstream and transported the heart, kidneys and liver.
How do I know my pet has dental disease?
The earliest signs of periodontal disease are red and swollen gums as well bad breath (halitosis). After this dental tartar (calculus) is deposited above the gum line on the teeth. The dental calculus is hard and cannot be removed with brushing, and if left long enough can lead to a receding gum line, exposure of tooth roots and teeth falling out. An abscess may form and are uncomfortable and sometimes very painful. Reluctance to chew pellets is also a possible sign of dental disease.
How is dental disease diagnosed?
Dental disease can be diagnosed by your Veterinarian during a routine clinical examination, but often the full extent of the problem can only be determined by doing a dental examination under sedation. In some cases, radiographs might be needed to examine the roots of the teeth.
How is dental disease treated?
Early cases of periodontal disease are reversible through dental cleaning as well as a home dental care plan. This will help to restore your pet’s teeth to a healthy state and prevent the progression to the painful stages of periodontal disease. In some cases where the dental disease has reached the irreversible stage, at-home-care, as well as regular veterinary dental cleanings, will be needed. This needs to be done to prevent worsening of dental disease leading to constant oral pain.
Veterinary dental cleaning
Cleaning done by a veterinarian is done under general anaesthesia. All the teeth are scaled with an ultrasonic scaler and polished. An intra-oral assessment is then done to check for periodontal pockets and loose teeth. Removal of loose teeth provides lasting relief and for some animals a new lease on life!
Often older animals are the ones that need dental care the most. A thorough health examination and laboratory test are done to identify health problems to facilitate safer anaesthesia.
Brushing your pets’ teeth
In order to prevent your pet having to come in for a dental cleaning under sedation, brushing your pet’s teeth is highly recommended. The earlier you start in your pet’s life the easier it will be for you and your pet. Special dog&cat toothpaste can be purchased at your Vet. (don’t use human toothpaste). A child size or special dog&cat toothbrush can be used. When starting off it is a good idea to use only toothpaste on your finger for the first month. This will allow your pet to get used to the brushing motion in its mouth. Brushing is done for 10-20 seconds on each side three times per week.
Toys and treats
Dog chew toys and treats promote healthy gums. It is best to give select toys made from rubbery material or ropes rather than hard ones that can cause tooth fractures.
Don’t give your pets bones or hooves. These can lead to tooth fractures, constipation and possibly foreign body obstruction.