Dental disease in dogs and cats is one of the most common conditions we see in veterinary practice. It is estimated that up to 80% of animals have some form of oral disease, with toy, terrier and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds being the most vulnerable. If affected, dogs and cats can suffer with bad breath, oral pain and eventually tooth loss.
Dental disease starts with the build up of plaque, a colourless film made up of saliva, food and bacteria, which sits on the surface of the teeth. If not cleaned away the plaque hardens to form tartar, appearing as a hard brown substance over the tooth. Plaque and tartar allow bacteria to grow, causing gums to become red, inflamed and sore, we call this condition gingivitis.
As the disease progresses, bacteria starts to infect below the gum line, causing damage to the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. This is known as periodontal disease and causes pain, tooth loss and sometimes more serious illness when bacteria enters the bloodstream spreading to organs such as the heart and liver.
Health teeth and gums – regular brushing at this stage will help to prevent tooth decay and gingivitis.
Early stages of periodontal disease – Tartar starting to develop over the tooth seen in the picture as brown discolouration. Also note the red rim along the gum margin – this is gingivitis. Scale and polish treatment followed by a dental care regime should help to prevent tooth loss.
Severe periodontal disease – Marked gingivitis seen as red, angry gums. There is a heavy build up of tartar along with gum recession causing exposure of part of the tooth root. By this stage the teeth need extracting.
Signs of dental disease to look for:
- Bad breath
- Red, sore gums
- Bleeding gums
- Difficulty when eating, reduced appetite or avoidance of hard foods and chews
- Pawing or rubbing of the muzzle
The good news is that many of these problems can be avoided or treated with routine dental care and regular oral checks by your vet.
How to care for your pets teeth
- Daily brushing – the most effective form of oral care. Specially designed toothbrushes and toothpastes are available for dogs and cats to make this process as easy as possible.
- Dental diet – specialist diets are available which are designed to clean your pets teeth as they eat. This diet is available for cats and dogs with an additional small breed dog variety.
- Dental chews – best suited for dogs who won’t tolerate brushing. These are highly palatable, specially shaped chews which work by gently abrading your dog’s teeth as they chew. Dental chews are available to buy from all our surgeries.
- Oral rinse and water additives – can be used in combination with brushing or on their own when brushing is not tolerated. Their plaque-fighting formulation improves oral health and freshens breath.
All these products are available to buy from our surgeries.
If your pet already has underlying dental disease then it may be necessary for their teeth to be scaled and polished under anaesthetic. If periodontal disease is present then affected teeth may need to be extracted, your vet will advise you if this is required.
If you would like any further information on dental care then visit any of our branches and ask a member of staff. Nurse clinics can be arranged free of charge if you would like advice on dental products or make an appointment to see your vet for a full oral health check.