Dental disease is very common in pets. Periodontal disease (dental disease) is a chronic issue, and in many cases it can never be cured. Therefore, prevention and reducing the rate of deterioration is key.
Whenever your pet eats, sugars and other nutrients form a layer of plaque on the surface of the tooth, often very close to the gum line. Plaque is a white substance, which accumulates on the tooth. If it is left on the tooth for longer than around 4 days, it can calcify, as substances in the saliva causes it to harden forming tartar. This is the start of periodontal disease.
Osteoclasts (cells which break down bone) become activated in order to break this tartar down, however they also break down the bone socket holding the tooth in place. They reduce its bone density, meaning the chances of fractured teeth and loss of teeth becomes much more likely. This can be very painful!We need to work together to prevent this tartar formation in order to keep our pets healthy and happy.
Why is dental health so important?
Dental health is incredibly important because most pets only have one set of adult teeth – similar to humans. Dental health can affect the health of the rest of the body and affect the way our pets function. Bacteria growing in the mouth may be swallowed and accumulate to different areas of the body.
These bacteria can vary in characteristics meaning symptoms will vary. Some bacteria will thrive in specific organs while others will be killed. These means a wide variety of symptoms could be witnessed as secondary effects of periodontal disease, including heart problems, kidney problems, and even liver and joint disease have been reported.
Our pets’ teeth are incredibly important. They allow our pets to eat their food helping to fuel their days. The pain associated with eating may lead to reduced appetite and then even nutritional deficiencies. This may mean diet changes are needed, which can be expensive and stressful to manage.
Many pets use their teeth to grab objects when they are playing. Once playing becomes painful due to their weak teeth, it is no longer fun and so you may see a change in their behaviour and attitude. We all want our pets to be able to enjoy playing!
How would I know it was happening?
Poor dental hygiene and disease lead to your pet having smelly breath. This makes them unpleasant to live and socialise with! By staying on top of dental hygiene, we can improve the smell of their breath.
As gum disease develops, pets gums will become inflamed. This is called ‘gingivitis’ and causes the gums to appear red, swollen and tender.
Many pets with poor dental health will have smelly breath. This is a common finding by owners. They may dribble a lot too. Dribbling can be a sign of excessive pain. Toothache is common alongside poor dental health however this may be harder to detect depending on your pets’ personality and breed. If your pet finds it painful having their mouth opened or is reluctant to let you do so, this suggests they are feeling pain.
As teeth become decayed, you may notice changes in colour and shape. The tooth may be loose at the gum and slightly move upon pressure. Eventually, you will notice tooth loss. The gums may be bright red and bleeding.
Should dental disease progress, sedation and a general anaesthetic is often needed. The teeth are scaled and polished with the loose or diseased teeth being removed. We want to prevent the disease from progressing this far.
How do I stop the dental disease from occurring?
Dental screening and regular examination of the oral cavity can highlight changes in the mouth.
These checks should start from a young age as some dental diseases could be congenital or occur during the development of the adult teeth. Starting as a puppy or kitten helps to teach your pet how you expect them to behave during the dental procedure, therefore, reducing the stress associated with the procedure as it happens more and more often. This practice should involve opening and closing their mouth allowing you to view all aspects of the jaw and teeth.
Additionally, you are able to learn what your pet’s mouth looks like when it is normal and healthy allowing you to see a change when damage or disease occurs. This additionally makes it easier for vets to examine their oral cavity when needed and can prevent the use of an anaesthetic helping to save money and to reduce the time of the procedure. Starting cleaning their teeth when they have only just erupted makes it a lot easier to keep them clean too rather than starting with a tooth which has much more bacteria surrounding it already.
How can I ensure my pet has good dental hygiene?
Brushing your pet’s teeth weekly helps to keep the teeth clean. We are able to teach you how to perform this procedure. We offer sedation in order to give the teeth a thorough exam and clean in these cases.
Dental sticks and hard chews can be good as the pressure they apply to the surface of the tooth helps to dislodge any plaque formed. However, make sure they aren’t too high in calories, or so hard that they might fracture a tooth!
You should ensure your pet has a good diet. The diet depends on the species and other nutritional requirements. You can speak to any of us at the practice for further specific guidance on the nutrition needed to prevent additional plaque build-up.
To conclude, dental care is extremely important. Prevention of dental disease is much cheaper and less stressful for our pets than the cure is.