We all love when our pets are happy and healthy. We also love to be close to them, but sometimes we feel like giving them a breath mint first!
Dental health in our pets is something we often forget about. We brush our teeth every day, but what about our pets?
There are natural defence mechanisms in place that help to reduce the build-up of plaque on the teeth. This includes the mechanical cleaning function of the tongue and enzymes in the saliva which help to break down proteins. Unfortunately though, this is not always enough and plaque starts to build up on and between the teeth. The plaque starts to harden with time and forms calculus on the teeth. The calculus forms a nice rough surface for bacteria to adhere to. This can then cause gingivitis and in more severe cases, periodontitis. Clumps of bacteria sometimes come loose from the teeth and can be swallowed or inhaled. This can cause disease in different organ systems. These bacteria have even been found on the heart valves of some dogs!
The gold standard for cleaning your pet’s teeth is to brush the teeth daily using a special finger brush. This will remove plaque from the teeth and prevent dental calculus from forming. It is very important to start brushing your puppy’s teeth early on so that it gets used to the sensation. Very few cats will allow their teeth to be brushed, but if they get used to this from a very early age, some cats will tolerate this.
Most cats and some dogs will not allow you to brush their teeth despite your best efforts. In this case you can give them treats and toys to chew on. This will reduce plaque build-up on their teeth, but will not prevent it completely. There are also special commercial diets available that help to reduce plaque build-up on the teeth.
Once calculus have built up on the teeth, it cannot be cleaned off with conventional brushing, but has to be removed using a special scaler. This is done under general anaesthetic as pets will not tolerate this procedure while they are awake. The teeth are polished after the scaling procedure to achieve a smooth tooth surface which makes it more difficult for bacteria to adhere to the teeth. Unfortunately this process cannot be stopped though and with time the plaque will start to build up again if the teeth are not brushed regularly.
Signs to look out for if you are concerned that your dog might have dental disease include bad breath, pain when chewing or only chewing on one side of the mouth, dropping food from the mouth when chewing and refusing to eat dry or hard food. In very severe cases your pet might stop eating altogether.
If you are concerned about your pet’s dental health make an appointment to see your vet who will then give you the best advice on possible treatments and dental care.