Caring for your pet’s teeth!

Looking after your pet’s teeth is a really important part of their preventative routine health care. Plaque can accumulate very quickly leading to dental and gum disease and in turn causing pain. However our pets can be very good at hiding pain and will rarely stop eating even when their mouths are sore, this means that regular checks are important to identify problems early.

Some older patients can have advanced periodontal disease, although this is a common finding in older patients, it should not be considered an inevitable part of ageing and should be treated as early as possible to prevent further problems developing.

As well as causing pain and bad breath, the bacteria from dental infections may enter the bloodstream each time your pet chews and can cause infections in other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs and kidneys.

Signs to look out for include; plaque or tartar on the teeth, red or sore gums, smelly breath, difficulty eating, bleeding or blood in saliva, pawing at the mouth and drooling. The earlier issues are identified, the sooner they can be treated, and the less invasive the treatment may be.

How can I prevent dental disease?

Introducing tooth brushing as part of your pet’s routine care is the most effective way of preventing dental disease. Ideally this should be done daily, just like our teeth, however it will still be effective if done less often, such as once a week.

Many owners feel that their pet won’t like having their teeth brushed, but if introduced carefully and gradually most pets will become used to, and even come to enjoy, the new attention!

We are happy to demonstrate tooth brushing here at the practice. It is best to introduce this gradually, use rewards and tasty flavoured toothpaste and work your way up to brushing the whole mouth. Getting kittens and puppies used to this from a young age will mean they come to consider it a normal part of life!

Although tooth brushing is the most effective method, we understand it is not always possible. There are other products which can be added to food and water which can help to prevent plaque from building up on the teeth. Gels are also available which can be put on the gum line rather than brushing on to the teeth which are more tolerable in some cases. Specific dental diets are available which are larger in size than regular dry food, which helps to remove plaque from the surface of the teeth. Hard food is also better to prevent plaque build up compared to wet food.

We do not recommend the use of bones. Your dog and cat’s teeth are designed for tearing meat rather than chewing bones. Bones could cause damage to the tooth and they also present the risk of causing internal damage if eaten. Dental chews are much safer, and certain products have been proven through research studies to reduce the build-up of plaque.

For more information on which products are most suitable, please speak to one of our vets or veterinary nurses. 

Common dental conditions

Plaque is a biofilm made up of saliva, protein, bacteria, oral debris, food remnants and inflammatory cells. Plaque accumulates on the surface of the teeth and then calcifies within 48 hours to form tartar, a browny yellow hard substance. This provides a perfect rough surface for even more plaque to accumulate.

Plaque and tartar lead to inflammation and reddening of the gums (known as gingivitis). Gingivitis is reversible, but if left untreated, progresses to periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is irreversible. It is the infection and destruction of the structures surrounding the teeth and holding them in place. This leads to loosening and eventual loss of the teeth and severe infections. Bacteria from these infections may enter the bloodstream through the gums and spread to sites such as the heart, lungs and kidneys.

What will we do if your pet has a dental problem?

In cases of dental disease we must examine every tooth individually, both visually and with instruments, to assess its condition. Xrays may also be required to assess the condition of the roots of each tooth. Each tooth will be thoroughly cleaned and all tartar removed and, if required, some teeth may be extracted.

In order to do this your pet will need to have a general anaesthetic, it is not possible to fully assess the teeth until the pet is anaesthetized and thorough cleaning of each tooth, including the areas of the teeth beneath the gum line, cannot be carried out consciously.

We understand that putting your pet under general anesthetic can be a worrying thought, there are steps we can take to ensure the risk is as low as possible and we would be happy to discuss these with you.

Once your pet is ready to go home, we may advise the use of an antibacterial gel for a few days afterwards. In all cases we send your pet home with a toothbrush and toothpaste. As previously mentioned, it only takes 48 hours for plaque to calcify again, so it is really important to introduce preventative measures quickly. Although we are always here for you and your pet if they are unwell, we do our best to help you keep them healthy and prevent further treatment in the future!

If you have any concerns about your pet’s teeth or would like to learn more about tooth brushing just let us know and we will be happy to discuss the options or to take a look!

Date Published:
6th August 2020

Written by:
Katherine Jacklin