Take care of your pets’ teeth – they have feelings too!

It’s that time of the year again – Dental month!

Though we should focus on our pets’ teeth 12 months of the year, this month we put all our focus into dental care. Like us, our pets rely on their teeth for eating (which is a very important part in life!). If you’ve ever experienced a sore mouth, gingivitis or wobbly teeth, you know that it makes you feel rather miserable. Though pets are sometimes good at hiding it, they experience the same pain and discomfort if their teeth and gums are having issues.

When you look at your pets’ lovely smile, have you noticed their pearly whites are not as pearly and white as they should be? Or maybe they’ve developed a smelly breath? Or, have they started showing odd behaviour like aggression, being withdrawn or are simply not eating? These are all tell-tale signs of dental disease, which means they could be suffering from pain and infections!

Dental disease is one of the most common problems we see here at the clinic, with close to 80 %of dogs and 70% of cats having some degree of dental disease by the age of 2!

So what exactly is dental disease?

Dental disease often begins with a build-up of plaque (a sticky film that is continually forming on the teeth). If left untreated, plaque hardens to form a tartar- trapping bacteria and eventually leading to gingivitis (painful and inflamed gums). The supporting structures of the tooth are often damaged, which then ultimately leads to tooth loss. Bacteria associated with dental tartar is what is responsible for the dreaded breath and can enter the blood stream and spread to vital organs such as heart, liver and kidneys causing systemic diseases.

How do I know if my pet has Dental Disease?

As we said earlier, pets are good at hiding pain. Even pets with sore gums, infected mouths and broken teeth will often continue to eat, making dental disease difficult to detect. Some signs you may notice at home include:
• Smelly Breath
• Drooling or dropping food
• Loss of appetite or weight loss
• Pain when eating
• Build-up of yellow brown tartar
• Bleeding gums
• Change in behaviour – being withdrawn, grumpy

These signs of dental disease are subtle and are hard to recognise, which can make the task of detecting dental disease hard. This is why it’s good to have regular check-ups so we can detect the signs early. Regular dental health checks also help ensure bacteria from dental infections don’t spread to the vital organs such as heart, kidney and liver.

Why does my pet have dental disease?

Our mouths are constantly creating plaque, just like our pets. If your pet doesn’t have to work hard at chewing their food, i.e. on a small kibble dry food diet or wet/can food, plaque and tartar build-up around the teeth causing bacteria to appear, which in turn leads to inflammation and eventually loss of the attachments (meaning the ligaments that hold the tooth in and the roots themselves). The simple reason dental disease occurs is due to the lack of dental prevention given to our pets, which allows plaque to build up over time.

Can I do anything at home to help?

Yes! There is so much you can do at home to help look after your pets’ mouth. Prevention is the ultimate key!

Tooth Brushing – Now I can already see your eyebrows raising and your head shaking. Reality is, tooth brushing is the gold standard of dental care (just like humans… funnily enough!). It seems daunting and we know not all pets like their mouth being touched. The key is consistency and positive reinforcement. If you have a puppy or kitten, start de-sensitising their mouths as soon as you can. For older pets, slowly introduce the concept, and make sure you make it as positive and treat-filled as possible! Even if you can’t do the entire mouth in one go, try doing one side a night. Some tooth brushing is better than none! Keep an eye out on our Facebook page for a video which will help give you tips on how to brush your pets’ teeth.
Eliminate wet/can food from your pet’s diet – this is one of the biggest contributors to dental disease as the food accumulates and sticks to the teeth and can easily get stuck in the crevices of their teeth. A good quality dry food will have all the necessary ingredients your pet needs for a balanced diet, so you should only have to feed dry food anyway.
Choose bigger kibble (dry food) if possible– The size of our pets dry food can make a huge impact when your pets are eating it. It can act like a toothbrush – so when your pet chomps down on the food, the kibble will brush up against the tooth to help get plaque and tartar off.
There is also food available which is specific for dental care called Hill’s t/d – Ask us about it next time you’re in the clinic.
Dental treats & water additives– there are so many different dental treats and chews available for your pets. The key thing to look for is the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) stamp of approval – these products have been examined by Vets who specialise in dental care and have been deemed safe and appropriate for pets to chomp on. Some products that you can look into include Greenies, Oravet Chews, Oxyfresh Water additive, and more!

In some cases the dental disease may be mild and can be treated at home by using a special diet or brushing their teeth. However, in many cases the dental disease has progressed too far for these types of treatment to be used effectively, and your four-legged friend may require a general anaesthetic to address this problem.

So now I can sense you’re wondering what a dental scale and polish procedure is!

The dental scale and polish procedure for our pet is very similar to the process we humans go through when our teeth are cleaned by the dentist. In fact, the equipment we use at the clinic is very similar to the machine you would see at the dentist. As you can imagine, it’s extremely hard to make sure a dog or cat keep their mouth open for us so we can safely clean their teeth. Asking them to “open wide and say ahhhh” just won’t cut it with our four-legged friends. An anaesthetic is required so we can thoroughly clean all sides and surfaces of the teeth as well as up under the gum line. Sometimes our veterinarians may recommend taking x-rays of your pet’s mouth too. This is to check the structures of the tooth and root under the gum line to ensure the tooth is healthy. Teeth that are severely diseased or decayed are generally removed to reduce the pain for the pet but also to help prevent problems in the future (such as infections and jaw fractures). After the teeth have been cleaned, a fresh flavoured polish is used to buff up those teeth, leaving their breath smelling lovely and fresh!

Dental disease is a big topic, and can also be a daunting one for some. The key is to use prevention daily, and to use a combination of products rather than relying on one. In saying that, one preventative product is better than none. Book regular dental check-ups and scale and polishes for your pets, as this will reduce their risk of developing severe dental issues (and reduce your veterinary bill!). As we’ve mentioned more times than you can count on one hand, dental disease in pets is similar, if not the same, as dental disease in humans. You wouldn’t not brush your teeth between seeing the dentist, would you?