It's a sad fact that 85% of all dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 years have some degree of dental disease, making it the commonest ailment of pets.
"Dental problems are largely preventable"
How do we detect dental disease?
Several signs may alert owners to the possibility of dental disease.
Your dog or cat may be off his food, chew only on one side of the mouth, dribble saliva or rub at the face. Some animals may even run away from food. There may be an obvious smell to the breath, and on close inspection tartar and inflamed gums can be seen. Many animals however will show no signs even when disease is present, so this is why it is important to have the teeth checked at the time of vaccination and the annual health check.
It's amazing how many cats and dogs we see with dental problems that are showing no signs of difficulty, despite the fact that they must be uncomfortable.
What causes dental disease?
The most common cause is accumulation of plaque and calculus on the teeth. Bacteria and decaying food stuck to the teeth leads to a characteristic smell! In the wild, dogs and cats rarely have calculus accumulation, indicating that a natural diet tends to reduce its formation.
What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is an inflammation of the sensitive gum tissue as a result of accumulated plaque and calculus. It is a common finding in dental disease. If caught early and a thorough veterinary dental treatment is performed, a full recovery and complete reversal of gingivitis is possible.
What is periodontal disease?
This is where an untreated gingivitis progresses to an irreversible loss of the bone and ligament that normally supports the tooth. Infection can lead to pus formation and a foul smell, and teeth become loose and are often lost. Obviously, it is much better for the animal to avoid this situation by having dental problems treated promptly.
What if my pet breaks a tooth?
Fractured teeth should always receive a prompt assessment by a veterinary surgeon with a special interest in dentistry. Please phone the Animed Veterinary Hospital for advice. Under some circumstances it is possible to fill or cap fractured teeth so that function can be retained, but very prompt treatment is required.
Can I prevent dental disease?
Yes! There are numerous ways of doing this:
- Feeding tough pieces of raw meat, encouraging chewing and the flow of saliva, which is antibacterial.
- Feeding special oral hygiene chews proven to reduce plaque formation. These are available through veterinary surgeons.
- Using a prescription diet, again available through veterinary surgeons, which wipes the teeth clean when chewed and has been shown to be as effective as twice-weekly tooth brushing.
- DAILY tooth brushing. Most dogs and some cats will allow their teeth to be brushed with gentle perseverance. A specially designed toothbrush and toothpaste should be used as human toothpaste must not be used on dogs and cats.
Do dogs need fillings like we do?
Dogs can develop cavities if they are frequently fed sugary foods. Sweets and chocolate should never be fed to dogs. Fillings can be performed on teeth affected with cavities, again by a vet with an interest or specialisation in dentistry. Special equipment and techniques are needed, and not all veterinary practices have this type of equipment or degree of specialisation.
Please contact Max Tuck BVetMed MRCVS, at the Animed Veterinary Hospital for advice regarding fillings.
Are some breeds more prone to dental disease?
Yes. Small breeds of dogs, particularly those with short faces, are most at risk. Greyhounds are also high risk for gingivitis and periodontal disease. Cats with short noses e.g. Persians are also more at risk than longer faced cats. However, careful toothbrushing from an early age will prevent these problems even in the "higher risk" patients.
Periodontal disease can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and liver and kidney problems.
Don't allow dental problems to go unchecked - it's not just the teeth that suffer.