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Caring for your pet's teeth

Your pet depends on their teeth to eat and chew properly. Routine oral health care is the key to maintaining good teeth and gums. Dental disease is the number one disease of companion animals and over 90% of dogs and cats will have some degree of dental disease by the time they are 3 years old.

The constant build-up of plaque and bacteria will lead to tartar formation and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). In turn, tartar and gingivitis lead to loose, painful teeth along with halitosis (bad breath).

Bacteria from the mouth can also spread to the areas of the body via the bloodstream and can lead to infections of the liver, kidneys and heart valves.

The progression of dental problems generally goes through three stages. The picture above shows how dental problems progress from the development of dental plaque right through to the loss of teeth.

The debris on the teeth leads on to gingivitis which is inflammation of the gums. This may be of varying severity, followed by recession of the gums which exposes more of the tooth root and also allows some damage to the bone around the tooth. Later we will see infection around the teeth themselves with pus and horrid debris accumulating.

Cats do tend to develop some slightly different problems. ‘Neck lesions’ are where the enamel erodes and even tiny little lesions can be terribly painful. We also see forms of gingivitis occur which are inflammatory. The teeth look fine but the body reacts to its own tissues producing some dreadfully inflamed and sore gums.

Prevention is the key but we do appreciate that this is much easier for us to advise than it is for you to achieve. The cooperation that we may observe at the surgery is often not what is experienced at home when you are holding a toothbrush. Even so, prevention is the key and this doesn’t just necessarily mean brushing.

Professional Cleaning

If your pet has tartar or calculus, the mineralised solid material attached to the teeth, building up, then a scale and polish is called for. Because of the area that we are dealing with, a general anaesthetic is essential. Consider how you feel sitting in the dentist’s chair, and that you volunteer for the experience!

We examine and evaluate all of the teeth and the surrounding gums. We break down and remove the mineralised material and then clean the teeth with the same type of scaler that your own dentist may use. Any teeth that have exposed roots or are loose may need removal. To remove some of the larger teeth, we will break them down into sections and then remove them so that we avoid force as much as possible.

Some pets will require antibiotics when they go home to protect them whilst the mouth heals. We may use long acting injections so that you can avoid tablets or capsules but the choice of antibiotic does vary with the situation.

If you'd like to know about a pet's visit for a dental procedure, this video shows you.

Follow up Care at Home

Following your pet’s procedure, the more you can do to prevent further build up, the less likely we are to see them for future dental work so whatever you can do, however minor it may seem, it is very well worth trying. We will perform a check up around a week after the appointment and we can go through everything with you.

If you wish to try brushing, wait until your pet has fully recovered from the dental, and then simply try and make some brushing type movements with just your finger, and only for a few seconds. You have to take it very gently and steadily, whether your pet is a cat or a dog.

Once you feel confident doing this, and your pet tolerates it, then try toothpaste on your finger. Human pastes are designed to foam which most pets dislike, and the strong mint taste used may actually be quite unpleasant to most pets, although the odd one may love it! They are also designed not to be swallowed. Special pastes designed for pets have flavours such as poultry and may be far more acceptable. If you can use these, and then onto a finger brush for just 30 seconds, that is a great achievement. For most cats and small dogs, a small finger brush is all we need whilst a larger dog will benefit from using a larger brush. Although human brushes can be used, some may be far too firm. There are also designs for dogs now which do all surfaces of the teeth; however the outer surface which you can see is by far the most important.

Whatever you can achieve is beneficial. Just 30 seconds daily, or on a regular basis will help enormously, and whilst 30 seconds may feel like a lifetime, your perseverance will pay off.

Dental chews and Diets

There are chews such as the Pedigree Dentastix and Oral Bars made by RCW, the same company, which can be used and there are more advanced and effective chews such as LOGIC, and the CET chews. Logic contains a product which helps break down tartar, whilst the CET chews contain small amounts of chlorhexidene which is a product commonly found in mouthwash and will reduce the bacteria which contribute so much to the general deterioration of the teeth.

Easy, just have a drink of water!

A new approach is to very simply add products to the water and this is incredibly useful, especially for those pets with which you simply cannot do any brushing, or we basically just don’t have the time. There are two products; Dentagen Aqua contains a natural plant extract named ‘RF2’. It’s easy to use, doesn’t put animals off drinking and is very safe. The second product is Aquadent, again very safe and very easy to use.

Food & Natural Products

Another innovative product is Plaque Off made from seaweed. It certainly seems to work for some of our patients and is simply a powder you add to food on a daily basis although some mechanical cleaning is also worth your while.

In respect of diets, Hills’ t/d is designed to clean the teeth as the animal bites through it. They are made as a larger biscuit size and animals may take them away from their bowl and chew them like a treat. This is absolutely fine.

Some other diets, including many of the Purina diets are also designed to help clean as the animal chews so please ask us about which foods will do this.

More in this category: « Itchy skin Senior cat healthchecks »

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