Dental disease is the most common disease of adult dogs and cats with >85% of adult pets having periodontal disease or advanced dental disease.
Dental disease starts with a thin film of protein from saliva, food particles, and dead cells from your pet’s teeth and gums. This film harbours bacteria. As bacteria build up underneath the gum-line, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) forms. This can be seen as a distinct red line at the junction of the tooth and the gum-line and if untreated can result in generalized swelling and redness of the gums, pain, gum recession, tooth root disease, tooth infection, periodontal disease and loss and even systemic disease that can affect the heart and kidneys as bacteria invade the bloodstream.
Prevention of dental disease is the most important step for owners to be aware of at home and in combination with veterinary treatment of any dental disease that is already present will ensure that your pet has a healthy oral cavity.
When we think about prevention there are several things that we can do as pet owners to help our pets maintain healthy teeth and gums
Brushing your pet’s teeth
- Set the goal for at least twice weekly
- DO NOT use human toothpaste as it is too harsh for pets (fluoride/enzymes can be toxic if swallowed)
- Several enticing flavours of pet toothpaste are available
- Start by using the toothpaste as a treat and offering it from your finger-tip
- After several days, start to introduce your finger-tip into your pets mouth and simulate brushing while praising your pet
- After a week, introduce either a finger cot or soft bristled pet toothbrush
- Use it as you would angling the bristles at 45 degrees and using circular strokes to remove debris
- Never try to pick tartar deposits from your pets teeth with instruments or your finger nails as this can cause damage to the gum and creates an irregular surface to which tartar will adhere even faster in the future
Dental toys and treats
- Dental toys and treats are specifically made to use mild abrasive action which helps to wipe away the plaque film that builds up on the teeth
- Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval. This seal means that the products have been researched and tested to adequately aid in the prevention of dental disease
- For a list of approved products go to: vohc.org
- Several premium quality pet foods manufacture diets that are meant to assist with dental care
- They work by a combination of mechanical and chemical action
- Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation or look for the VOHC seal
Once plaque deposits calcify, tartar is formed. In order to remove tartar deposits or address further dental disease, professional scaling and care is required and that is where veterinary treatment is necessary.
The Australian Veterinary Dental Society recommends that pets have professional cleanings every six to twelve months; just like we do. Additionally, some dogs are more inclined to have dental disease as they produce excessive saliva or have smaller mouths.
A Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning/Prophylaxis is comprised of many steps.
- Oral examination under anesthesia
Since pets do not generally allow a thorough exam while awake, the veterinarian utilizes anaesthetic to completely examine the mouth. At this time, an evaluation of general oral health can be made and tooth motility, fractures, and degree of gum infection can be assessed.
- Charting the Oral Cavity
If there are any missing teeth, these are noted along with any teeth that require extraction.
- Scaling the teeth
A high speed ultrasonic scaler is used to remove tartar deposits and to sweep under the gum-line to remove bacterial deposits as well.
As required due to motility, fractures, gum recession or deep pockets
- Polishing the teeth
A special paste is used to remove any microscopic tartar deposits and to create a smooth surface so that tartar is less likely to re-adhere
- Rinsing the oral cavity
The mouth is rinsed with a special anti-bacterial rinse
After the Dental Cleaning, preventative care should be re-instituted as it only takes 10 days for plaque to start adhering to the tooth’s surface again.