Dental disease is one of the most common diseases seen in our pets, found to some degree in the majority of animals over three years of age.
Poor dental hygiene and inappropriate diet can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, causing considerable discomfort that often goes unnoticed.
Our nurses offer free dental health consultations, and should your pet require treatment we use modern dental equipment (similar to that you may find at your own dentist) for any scaling, polishing and any tooth extractions required.
How do we know if our pets have dental disease?
Dental disease in our pets can be a painful condition although quite often they are also good at hiding the problem until quite severe disease is present. Pain may manifest in different ways such as behavioural or temperament changes with pets becoming quiet or subdued or pawing at their face. In more severe cases pets may seem to chew food on one side of their mouth or stop eating all together. They may also seem to be hungry and keen to eat, even going to the food bowl but then seem unable or reluctant to eat especially with hard foods compared to softer foods.
How to examine your pet’s teeth
Examination of your pet’s mouth may reveal a build up of tartar on the teeth. Many dogs and cats will let owners look in their mouths at home but if you are unable to do this then you should make an appointment for one of the nurses to have a look for you. Rabbits mouths are difficult to examine with them awake but your vet may be able to visualise some of the teeth using equipment in the surgery to help. Tartar starts to occur where the tooth meets the gum and more often occurs on the large molar teeth towards the back of the mouth. The gums adjacent to the teeth may be reddened or bleeding (gingivitis) which is a sign that there is inflammation. You may also notice a foul odour (halitosis) caused by the bacteria harboured in the mouth. In severe dental disease there may be pus in the mouth and teeth may even become loose. Other signs of dental disease include swelling of the face and excess salivation.
What causes our pets to develop dental disease?
Plaque forms as a result of bacteria adhering to the tooth surface producing a slime which encourages more bacteria to attach and multiply. The plaque causes irritation and inflammation of the gum close to the tooth (gingivitis) and can therefore cause a pocket to form between the gum and tooth allowing more bacteria to accumulate there. The plaque can then become mineralised and hardens to form tartar (calculus). Gingivitis develops into periodontal disease where the ligament that holds the tooth in the socket becomes damaged and weak as does the bone of the socket itself. In this way teeth become loose and will be lost. In cats, the tooth surface itself can become damaged causing Feline Odontoclastic Resoptive Lesions (FORL’s) which are very painful and require extraction of the affected tooth.
What can we do to stop dental disease developing?
As with a lot of other conditions – prevention is better than cure! Tooth brushing is the best way to prevent dental disease but it does not come naturally for pets to allow us to let us do this! A gradual introduction to brushing is important so as not to over force your pet and make him reluctant to let you continue to brush. Pick a time of day when your pet is calm and relaxed and get someone to help you if possible. Make sure you use a pet toothpaste (not a human one) and start with small steps for short periods of time until your pet feels more confident. This could involve using a small amount of toothpaste and your finger initially, progressing to use a finger brush before moving on to a toothbrush. Always reward your pet with a treat when you are training them to accept brushing. Brushing cat’s teeth is not easy but can be possible, especially if it is introduced to cats at a young age.
Special diets and dental treats can also help reduce plaque and tartar through their abrasive action – however be cautious of feeding too many treats to overweight pets. In general, harder, kibble type foods help to reduce tartar build up