Dental disease is very common in cats and dogs. Surveys show that after the age of three years, about seven out of ten pets develop some degree of dental problems that can lead to disease. If left unattended this may cause irreversible damage to their teeth, gums, and jawbones. Dental disease can often be prevented by removing the build-up of plaque and is a great way to keep your dog or cats teeth and gums healthy!
How do I know if my pet has dental disease?
Plaque is a yellowish white deposit made up of bacteria and debris that forms around the surface of the teeth. In time it hardens to become a yellowish brown tartar (sometimes called calculus) at the base of the tooth and gradually spreads until it covers the whole of the tooth’s surface. As well as the visible tartar there may be other indications of disease. Foul breath is very common and the pain resulting from advanced dental disease may cause difficulties in eating. If your dog dribbles excessively or shows signs of pain and discomfort such as head shaking and pawing at the mouth are indications of a potential dental problem.
How does dental disease affect my pet’s health?
The tartar hidden below the gum line is the main cause of problems. It contains bacteria that will attack the surrounding gum tissue causing painful inflammation (’gingivitis’) and infection that can track down to the roots. Pus can build-up in the root system and form a painful abscess. This inflammation wears away tissue from the gum, bones and teeth and, as the disease becomes more advanced, the teeth will loosen and can fall out. Bacteria and the poisons they produce can also get into the blood stream and cause damage throughout the body in organs such as the kidneys, heart and liver.
How can dental disease be treated?
If your dog has advanced disease and is in obvious pain, your vet may need to take x-rays of your pet’s head, under general anesthesia, to see whether there are any deep abscesses. Any loose teeth will have to be removed because. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics before doing dental work if there are signs of infection. Then your dog will be given a general anesthetic so that your vet can remove the tartar, usually with an ultrasonic scaling machine. Finally, your dog’s teeth will be polished to leave a smooth surface that will slow down the build-up of plaque in the future. However, it is inevitable that plaque will re-appear. To keep your dog’s teeth in good condition it is likely that they will need regular scaling and polishing, in some cases at intervals of between six and twelve months.
Will a change in diet help control dental disease?
In the wild your dog’s teeth would be much cleaner because its diet would contain harder materials than are found in commercially tinned or packaged foods. Dogs and cats naturally eat the bones, fur, etc. of their prey, which wears away the deposits of tartar. Replacing soft foods with dry or fibrous materials will slow the build-up of plaque. The extra chewing involved helps control infection because it stimulates the production of saliva, which has natural antibiotic properties.
What else can I do to keep my dog’s teeth clean?
Brushing your dog’s teeth is just as important in preventing dental disease as brushing your own. Ideally your pet should get used to having its teeth cleaned from an early age. Wrapping a piece of soft gauze around your finger and gently rubbing the dog’s teeth should get it used to the idea. You can then move on to using a toothbrush specially designed for cats or a small ordinary toothbrush with soft bristles. Toothbrushes that fit over the end of your finger are available for dogs and cats. Your vet can supply you with suitably flavored toothpaste that your pet may enjoy. There are also some mouth rinses and antibacterial gels that can help reduce plaque deposits and prevent infection. Do not attempt to use human toothpaste as it is not formulated for dogs and could cause some harmful side effects.
What if my dog doesn’t like having its teeth brushed?
At first your dog may resist but with gentleness, patience and persistence most pets can be trained to accept having their teeth cleaned. A regular brushing every day or at least three times a week will significantly reduce the risk of your pet suffering serious problems or needing frequent general anesthetics to treat advanced dental disease.
Preventative healthcare for your dog is very important. Regular brushing of your dog’s teeth from a young age can prevent the need for veterinary dental attention.
Dental disease is very common in cats and dogs. Surveys show that after the age of three years, about seven out of ten pets have some kind of dental disorders. If left unattended these may cause irreversible damage to your pet’s teeth, gums and jawbones. Your veterinarian can recommend when to get a dental scaling to keep their teeth healthy.