Dental Disease - What to look out for and how to help.

Tooth and gum disease is one of the most common conditions seen by vets.

It is not the case that older dogs and cats lose their teeth , this can be prevented with awareness and simple home care.

Have you had a look in your pet’s mouth?! If he or she is amenable (don't get bitten!), try lifting their gum. The teeth should be white with pink gums.

Your vet will be happy to arrange an appointment to check and discuss your pets' dental health or treatment with you.

Tell tale signs of dental disease are;

  • Bad breath
  • Yellow/brown teeth
  • Red or bleeding gums
  • Pain or swelling of the jaw or face
  • Reluctance to eat /pick up food or toys
  • Weight loss
  • Rubbing face/pawing at mouth
  • Excessive salivation

Pet dental disease is not the same as humans. In dogs, periodontal disease is more common, where the tissues around the tooth become infected with accumulation of tartar (calculus) causing gingival (gum) recession with infection. If untreated, the tooth loosens in the socket causing inevitable discomfort and eventual loss of the tooth.

The canine and feline mouth is not a clean place - it's full of bacteria! The bacteria grows on the tooth surface forming plaque. Most of this is removed by the tongue or with hard food or chews, but any plaque left becomes thickened. This is calculus/tartar (the browny deposits seen on the tooth surface). As this layer thickens, it presses on the gum, causing irritation, inflammation and allowing the bacteria to infect (gingivitis). The gum recedes with the socket infected and the tooth loosens.

oral infection can spread to tonsillitis and pharyngitis. Worryingly, the bacteria absorbed into the blood supply will be carried to other organs. For example, in older dogs and cats, heart conditions (endocardiosis) can be due to bad teeth as well as Kidney and liver problems.

What can be done?
Prevention : The amount of plaque on individual dogs'/cats' teeth varies and can be reduced easily with special foods or chews/toys and regular homecare, i.e. brushing.

This may sound daunting but pets can be taught to accept a toothbrush. Daily brushing is the most effective way of reducing plaque. Use a specially formulated brush or an old human one (ideally a soft one). There are special gels and toothpastes at vet clinics. Do not use human toothpaste as it is not well tolerated and contains foaming agents, which are not meant to be swallowed.

Speak to your vet, who will be happy to advise and help.

If your pets' mouth looks/smells unsightly, he/she may need a dental procedure. Make an appointment for a check - up. If the vet/nurse deems this necessary, your pet may need antibiotics before the procedure. Pets require anaesthetic to clean their teeth, so older pets may need a blood test first to check that their liver and kidneys are healthy enough.

A descale of tartar will remove the bulk of the dirt and you can continue at home with the preventative measures of brushing/specific foods/chews/toys.

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