As with people, good oral hygiene is essential for your pets to have healthy gums and teeth throughout their life. Unfortunately for animals, they can’t brush their teeth twice a day like most people do. Thus, by the time they are only a few years old, most pets will have developed some signs of dental disease.
Because the signs are often subtle, many pet owners fail to notice the increasing pain and discomfort that their animal suffers as conditions in their mouth slowly deteriorate over time.
How does dental disease develop?
Plaque is a soft sticky substance composed largely of bacteria that constantly accumulates on teeth. Brushing our teeth prevents the build-up of plaque. In animals, the plaque is allowed to accumulate on the teeth, eventually hardening into tartar if left untreated.
The presence of plaque and tartar on the teeth can cause decay and a painful inflammation of the gums known as gingivitis. Eventually the destructive processes of the bacteria in plaque cause periodontal disease, where the structures supporting the teeth are irreversibly damaged. Periodontal disease will progress to the loss of teeth if not treated.
Furthermore, the bacteria associated with dental disease are also responsible for your pet’s bad breath and can enter the bloodstream to spread to vital organs such as the heart and kidneys if left untreated.
What factors contribute to the development of dental disease?
There are a variety of factors associated with dental disease in cats and dogs. These include:
1. Lack of oral hygiene: because the majority of pet owners do not brush their animals’ teeth, plaque and tartar are allowed to accumulate on the teeth
2. Diet: animals that eat soft moist food are more susceptible to plaque accumulation. The mechanical action of eating dry food is more effective in removing plaque.
3. Age: the older the pet, the more likely it is to have dental disease
4. Genetics: in certain breeds, the shape of the head and crowding or misalignment of teeth promotes periodontal disease. This is especially common in smaller breed dogs. It has also been suggested that certain cat breeds, such as the Somali and Abyssinian, may be predisposed to dental disease.
5. Concurrent Disease: animals with concurrent disease such as kidney disease, Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), are much more likely to have problems with their teeth.
6. Chewing Habits: pets that tend to chew on one side of their mouth may have increased dental disease on the other side of the mouth
How can I recognize the signs of dental disease in my cat or dog?
The signs of dental disease can be very subtle, and very easy to overlook. As a pet grows older, though, owners should be increasingly on the look out for indications that it may have dental problems.
Signs of dental disease include:
• Bad breath
• Bleeding and inflamed gums
• Build-up of yellow or brown tartar on the teeth
• Pain or discomfort when chewing food
• Pawing at the mouth
• Drooling excessively
• Change of eating habits or loss of interest in food
• Tooth loss
• Head shy
• Subdued behavior
How is dental disease diagnosed?
A veterinarian can diagnose dental disease based on your pet’s medical history and a physical examination. In severe cases, x-rays of the skull may be necessary to determine the extent of the disease. Taking a blood sample is often useful to determine if there is an underlying cause to the dental disease as well establishing if your pet is healthy enough to undergo a general anesthetic while it is getting its teeth cleaned.
How is dental disease treated?
Vets treat dental disease in animals in much the same manner as dentists treat dental disease in humans. Any loose or damaged teeth are extracted to prevent them from causing further trouble for your pet. The remaining teeth are scaled and polished in order to removed plaque and tartar.
This whole process is performed under a general anesthetic, so your pet won’t feel a thing. Animals with particularly bad cases of dental disease may also require a short course of antibiotics. Pets with severe dental disease may require regular teeth cleaning for the rest of their life.
How can I prevent dental disease in my pet?
Preventing dental disease can pose a difficult task for most owners. Trying to switch finicky pets from their favorite wet food to a dry food may prove difficult. Your vet may suggest using specially formulated prescription diets to improve your pet’s oral hygiene (e.g. Hills Prescription Diet Canine t/d or Feline t/d or Science Diet Oral Care).
If you have a compliant animal, brushing your pet’s teeth is an excellent way of preventing the build-up of plaque and monitoring the condition of your pet’s teeth. Consult your veterinarian about brushing your pet’s teeth. There are toothbrushes and toothpastes specifically designed for use in animals.
Never use human toothpaste to brush an animal’s teeth, as it can be lethal! Lastly, try to avoid letting your pet chew on hard objects such as stones as this can easily lead to broken teeth.
Providing your pet with good oral care can be very challenging. If you are concerned about your animal’s dental health, always consult a veterinarian for ways to improve your pet’s oral hygiene.