Dental Care and your pets!
Why healthy mouths are important for our pets?
Did you know that 80% of animals over 3 years of age have some form of dental disease?
Unhealthy mouths produce bad breath from a build-up of bacteria. The overgrowth of bacteria leads to gingivitis and lifting of the gum from around the tooth. The tooth roots become exposed and painful for your pet. The bacteria may also enter the bloodstream and start to affect your pets overall health.
If you have ever experienced tooth pain you can empathise with your pet. Unhealthy mouths can be very painful, our pets don’t often show us obvious signs of tooth pain. The more subtle signs they do show often go unnoticed, for example; Some pets may stop chewing or eating hard foods, some may rub their faces or shy away from attention, others may just sleep more often.
If your pet has any other these signs we recommend that you book in for a dental examination.
Not chewing or eating hard food
Before we domesticated the family dog and cat they were hunting animals. Tearing at carcasses no doubt kept their teeth cleaner than tinned food and biscuits do today. Dental problems in pets are most typically seen as dental plaque and tartar, gum inflammation (which is known as gingivitis) and bad breath. The gums ultimately recede exposing the roots which leads to infection and eventually tooth loss.
Plaque and Tartar
Dogs and cats can’t clean their teeth like we can and so plaque gradually begins to form on the sides of the teeth. It’s a mixture of minerals and salts from the salivary glands, food particles and bacteria. Dry food as well as canine chews and other gnawing toys do reduce the amount of plaque and tartar accumulating on the teeth, probably due to the mechanical abrasive action. However once tartar has formed, professional cleaning under a general anaesthetic is necessary in order to remove it. One of the main factors determining the amount of tartar build-up is the individual chemistry in the mouth. Some pets need yearly cleanings; other pets need a cleaning only once every few years.
Bad Breath and Infection
Before you see it, you’ll probably smell it and a friendly lick becomes no fun at all. The bacteria love growing in plaque and as the tartar pushes back the gum, infection sets in between the teeth and the gums. This allows the teeth to loosen in their sockets and infection to enter the root socket. The teeth will eventually loosen and fall out or have to be extracted.
Infection will accumulate in the mouth, resulting in gingivitis (Inflammation of the gums), tonsillitis, and pharyngitis (sore throat). Although antibiotics may temporarily suppress the infection, if the tartar is not removed from the teeth, infection will return quickly. Infection within the mouth will be picked up by the blood stream and carried to other parts of the body.
Some kidney and heart disease may be caused by this infection.
What is involved in cleaning my pet’s teeth?
Proper cleaning of the teeth requires complete co-operation of the patient so plaque and tartar can be removed properly. For most domestic pets, general anaesthesia is required to thoroughly clean the teeth. Although anaesthesia always carries a degree of risk, the modern anaesthetics and safety precautions in use in practice today minimise this risk, even for older pets. Depending on your pet’s age and general health status, your veterinarian may advise a prior blood test to evaluate liver and kidney function and general health status
of the patient and or the provision of intravenous fluids to help maintain blood pressure etc whilst under anaesthesia.
Where appropriate your veterinarian may also suggest dental radiography for your pet during their dental procedure. This is a quick and easy diagnostic tool that helps the vet assess the extent of dental disease.
There are three steps in the cleaning process that will be used on your dog or cat:
1. Scaling removes the tartar above and below the gum line. This is done with hand instruments and ultrasonic cleaning equipment.
2. Polishing smoothes the surface of the teeth, making them resistant to additional plaque formation.
3. Flushing removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to remove the bacteria that accompany tartar.
Your pet may require antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatories to control infection and pain after the dental. If any teeth have been removed, it’s best not to feed food that may get stuck in sockets, so no pureed food or canned food for a couple of days. Chopped meat, meat balls or soaked/softened biscuits is better.
Your pet may also need a mouth wash such as “Hexarinse”. This is an anti-septic wash which helps prevent infection after teeth and plaque have been removed. It helps reduced gingivitis by lower the numbers of bacteria in the mouth. Unlike most human mouth washes it does not have a cold or alcoholic after taste.
Preventing Dental Disease
In order for your pets’ teeth to remain nice and clean following a dental, it is important to make some dietary changes. Strips of raw meat, hard biscuits, dental chews, chicken necks (especially for small dogs and cats) and large raw bones help teeth remain cleaner, although avoid all cooked bones. What you don’t want is your pet eating the whole bone as it can lead to digestive problems, with the aim of the bone being “nature’s toothbrush”, gently abrading the teeth as the pet chews.
The gold star preventative treatment for teeth, is brushing with a soft toothbrush. One useful way of getting your dog accustomed to brushing the teeth is to use an old toothbrush dipped in the dog's dinner since feeding time is, after all, the high point of the day for your pet. Unlike us, brushing of the outside of the teeth is all that is really required. A dog's tongue is sufficiently mobile that most of the plaque and in consequence, tartar, is removed from the inside (lingual) surface of the teeth automatically. Once your pet has become accustomed to
this procedure it is a simple step to move to the use of special toothpastes which, unlike ours, are meant to be swallowed and are usually meat or malt flavoured.
Special diets are available for dogs and cats with problem teeth. Hills make a t/d diet which reduces the level of tartar build up in a number of ways. This diet is available at veterinary clinics.
'Plaque Off’ is a product that can be added to your pet’s meals to help reduce the bacterial load in the mouth, improve bad breath and maximise oral hygiene.