Dental Disease - Care of Gums and Teeth

Dental problems are very common. 80% of pets over 2 years have problems with their teeth or gums that may cause serious discomfort. But luckily dental disease is avoidable with the right dental care routine.

The build-up of plaque and tartar causes painful gingivitis and can lead to pets losing teeth.  For some pets dental disease will go on to cause more serious health problems affecting the heart, liver or kidneys when tartar causes a build-up of bacteria which can then enter the bloodstream.  Yet it is all easily prevented when you know how.

What are the signs of dental disease?

There are several signs that can indicate that your pet has some degree of dental disease, including

  • Bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Yellow or brown tartar
  • Pawing or rubbing the mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Dribbling

How can dental disease be prevented?

Daily Brushing

Brushing your pet'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 pet's teeth should get it used to the idea. You can then move on to using a toothbrush specially designed for pets.  Toothbrushes which fit over the end of your finger are available for pets and cats and are very easy to use.

Use an enzymatic toothpaste to remove plaque and reduce tartar formation and help keep pets’ and reduces bad breath.  Pet toothpastes come in a variety of flavours to ensure that they love the taste and to make brushing more enjoyable.

Do not attempt to use human toothpaste as it contains fluride that pets cannot spit out and it is harmful to them if swallowed.

Although daily brushing is the most effective way to prevent dental disease there are alternative products available that do he


There are also some mouth washes and antibacterial gels that can help reduce plaque deposits and prevent infection. Some products can be added to your pets drinking water which is a very convenient way to reduce plaque and tartar.

Dental Chews

Dentagen Plaque Prevention Chews for example are highly palatable chew that help to inhibit plaque formation and are recommended to be given to your pet every other day.  The special design and shape of the chews provide mechanical cleaning right to the gum line.

Will a change in diet help control dental disease?

In the wild your pet'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 would by naure eat the bones, fur, etc. of their prey which wear 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 antibacterial properties.

There are special diets available to help maintain clean teeth, Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d and Hill’s Vet Essentials are designed to clean your pet’s teeth as he eats.

What if my pet doesn't like having its teeth brushed?

At first your cat or dog may resist but with gentleness, patience and persistence most pets can be trained to accept having their teeth cleaned. The sooner you start the better, but it is never too late to try. A regular brushing every day will significantly reduce the risk of your pet suffering serious problems or needing frequent general anaesthetics to treat advanced dental disease.

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 which will attack the surrounding gum tissue causing painful inflammation ('gingivitis') and infection can track down to the tooth roots. Pus may build up in the roots 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 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 pet has advanced disease and is in obvious pain, x-rays of your pet's teeth and roots may need to be taken under general anaesthesia, to see whether there are any deep abscesses. Any loose teeth will have to be removed because the disease is too advanced to be treated. Antibiotics may need to be prescribed before doing dental work if there are signs of infection. Then your pet will be given a general anaesthetic so that your vet can remove the tartar, usually with an ultrasonic scaling machine. Finally, your pet's teeth will be polished to leave a smooth surface which will slow down the build-up of plaque in the future.

However, it is inevitable that plaque will re-appear. To keep your pet'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.

Preventative healthcare for your pet is very important. Regular brushing of your pet's teeth from a young age can prevent the need for veterinary dental attention.