Plaque and tartar build up on their teeth and can lead to infection, tooth loss, pain, or difficulty eating. If the bacteria that leads to infection gets into the bloodstream it can even affect the liver, heart or kidneys.
Dental disease is very common and affects over 87% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of three. But the good news is that it can be prevented with the right dental care routine and pets will avoid needing treatment under general anaesthetic.
What are the Signs of Dental Disease?
There are several signs that can indicate that your pet has some degree of dental disease, including:
- Yellow or brown deposits on the gum line
- Drooling or pawing the face
- Losing interest in food or difficulty eating
- Swollen and bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
How can dental disease be prevented?
It’s ideal to begin a dental routine when your pet is young, but it’s never too late to start.
- Gradually get your pet accustomed to having their mouths touched first. Wrap a piece of soft gauze around your finger and gently rub your pet’s mouth.
- Then move on to using a toothbrush specially designed for pets. Toothbrushes that fit over the end of your finger are very easy to use.
- Brush with an enzymatic toothpaste developed for pets to remove plaque and reduce tartar formation. Avoid fluoride paste as this can upset their stomachs.
- If your cat resists having its teeth brushed there are pastes that can be applied to their paws, and by licking it off they do the job for you!
- Ensure that your pet has an annual vet health checks to ensure all is well. Your vet will sot the early signs of dental disease and will advise a dental routine and in some cases a scale and polish is required to get teeth back to good condition.
What if my pet resists 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. Although daily brushing is the most effective treatment, if it continues to be impossible to brush their teeth there are other products available that can help.
Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d and Hill’s Vet Essentials Diets have a unique dental technology that has been proven to help prevent dental disease by cleaning pets’ teeth while they eat.
A variety of chews are available. It’s important to be aware that some have high fat content and can be the equivalent of a bar of chocolate for a human. When feeding chews to pets on a daily basis, remember to reduce their daily food allowance to take into account the extra calories in the dental chews.
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?
Your pet will be given a general anaesthetic so that your vet can remove the build-up of tartar, usually with an ultrasonic scaling machine. The teeth are then polished to leave a smooth surface which will slow down the build-up of plaque in the future.
For pets with more advanced disease and that are in obvious pain, x-rays of the teeth and gums are taken under general anaesthetic, to see whether there are any deep abscesses. Antibiotics may need to be prescribed before doing dental work if there are signs of infection. A scale and polish will be carried out under anaesthetic and any loose teeth will have to be removed.
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.
Remember keeping your pet’s teeth in good condition is important for their overall health, so speak to your vet if you have any concerns.