The Importance of Pet Dental HealthAugust 4, 2021
Do you brush your teeth daily? How important are your teeth to you? Can you imagine your daily life routine without your teeth?
Pets rely on their teeth for the same reasons we require teeth, plus more! Teeth allow chewing, grooming and they also allow your pet to carry items within their mouth. We need to play our role as owners and vets in maintaining good oral health to allow the teeth to do their job pain-free.
Dental disease is one of the most common reasons pets are brought into the vets. Many pets suffer from dental disease but will not display any clinical signs unless the pain is extremely severe.
Our top tips for keeping your pets oral cavity clean:
If possible, brush your pet’s teeth. It is best if you can do this multiple times per week. If you start brushing your pet’s teeth whilst they are young, they are more likely to find the experience less stressful as they get older, because they
will habituate to the idea. Make sure you purchase tooth paste specific to your pet’s species as some substances used within certain toothpastes can be toxic.
When you start, you may need to break brushing down into smaller steps to get your pet more tolerant of the procedure, so they experience less stress in the process. Opening and closing your pet’s mouth regularly for brushing also makes it easier for vets to examine the oral cavity when needed and can prevent the use of an anaesthetic helping to save money and to reduce the time for quick check-ups.
Dental screening and regular checking of the oral cavity can highlight changes in oral health. These checks should be performed by one of our vets, who may be able to spot subtle changes even if there are no obvious problems. The more regular these checks are, the more likely you are to get used to what your pet’s oral cavity looks like and therefore, it will be easier to spot any abnormalities in dental hygiene.
You can also provide chew sticks and dog-safe hard toys to knock the plaque off your pet’s teeth whilst they play. This is a great way of helping your pet’s oral health whilst giving them some fun exercise. Just be careful and try to avoid natural materials such as wood (which splinters) and stone (which breaks teeth). Even bone can cause intestinal damage or nutritional problems in some cases, so isn’t generally recommended for dental hygiene. Of course, these chewing techniques won’t clean down to the gum line the way brushing can, so should only be considered an “add on”.
Clinical signs associated with dental disease commonly seen include:
- Weight loss
- Increased salivation
- Bad breath
- Discoloured teeth
- Red or bleeding gums
- Swollen gums
- Loose teeth
- Mouth sores
There are many different degrees and severities of dental disease. It is much easier to prevent than treat and often cannot be reversed. If you start to notice any of the symptoms above, we recommend seeking veterinary attention.
What is Periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is the most common type of oral disease we see. Whenever your pet eats something, a layer of plaque will build up on the surface of the teeth. Plaque is a white substance which builds up and accumulates on the teeth before a substance in the saliva causes it to harden forming tartar. Tartar, which is also referred to as calculus, can calcify. Tartar takes around 4 days to form but its growth is stopped by the removal of plaque, hence the importance of tooth brushing.
Gum disease occurs near the start of periodontal disease as more and more bacteria becomes trapped under the gum causing inflammation – gingivitis.
Tartar builds up until it sits in the gum, causing inflammation and infection that eventually causes the bone beneath it to resorb. This reduces the bone density and often leads to deeper disease which is even more painful.
In addition to the teeth becoming much looser due to the reduced bone density, bacteria growing in the mouth may be dislodged and swallowed leading to systemic illness and has been linked with heart and kidney problems.
What causes Caries?
Caries is another type of oral disease we diagnose in animals. Sugary foods, especially human treats that are given to pets, cause a build-up of acid which weakens the outer layer of the tooth exposing the enamel. The enamel will erode, exposing the dentine, then the dentine will start to erode. This is very painful because the nerve which is in the centre of the tooth has lost more and more of its protective layers, making the tooth much more sensitive to specific temperatures and pressures. This procedure is very common in humans but rare in our pets because they often do not have diets high in sugar.
Unfortunately however, we very commonly see periodontal disease in these species.
What does a dental entail?
Your vet may decide that performing a dental is the best plan in order to optimise the welfare of your pet. A dental involves a thorough inspection of the oral cavity whilst your pet is sedated or under general anaesthetic. We will use torches, mirrors and dental probes to assess the extent of the disease and make a plan for the dental procedure. Under a general anaesthetic, we will remove tartar, perform extractions, and clean the teeth.
Every dental requires a general anaesthetic which carries risk. Your vet will discuss the risks associated with the anaesthetic with you and answer any questions prior to admitting your pet. Whilst these discussions are very important to have, the risk is low.
How long will it take for my pet to recover after the dental?
After the anaesthetic, most most side effects (typically drowsiness) will stop after 48 hours.
Some pets will need soft food for a period of time following the dental, depending on the amount of extractions required and the level of disease the pet displayed. Pain relief medication may be required following the procedure. The post-op care will vary on a case by case basis and your vet will put a unique post-op plan together for your pet.
Rabbits have a different dental arrangement compared to cats and dogs. As well as having “nibbling” incisors at the front, there is then a large gap (the diastema) before the chewing teeth (molars and premolars) which full the cheeks (and are sometimes called “cheek teeth” for that reason). All these teeth continually grow, meaning they need to be worn down by chewing, otherwise they will overgrow. This causes pain as the teeth can grow into the cheek tissue, both upwards or out of the side of their mouth. Providing hay is a great way to encourage your rabbit to chew helping to keep their teeth the correct length and evenly balanced.
Overall, dental health is a very important aspect of all pets lives as it affects multiple different aspects. If you are concerned about your pet’s dental health, give us a call and we will be happy to help.