Dental disease is one of the most common diseases dogs and cats. Dental disease is also known as periodontal disease or gum disease. This disease is entirely preventable!
Dental disease is very painful condition and if left untreated it can cause serious problems to the mouth, jaw bones, internal organs and obviously tooth loss.
What is dental disease?
As humans we are told from an early age to brush our teeth! This is to remove harmful bacteria that builds up during the day and night.
As we don’t general brush our pets teeth twice a day this bacteria builds up on the tooth’s surface, forming a white sticky film next to the gum, this is called plaque. Plaque takes as little as 48 hours to become harmful once on the tooth’s surface! The plaque attracts more bacteria and a hard mineralised deposit will form, this is known as calculus.
Calculus is laden with bacteria, this bacteria will then start to damage the gum, the bone and the tooth roots causing pain and tooth loss.
How does dental disease affect the bones and internal organs?
Once the bacteria has reached the bone it starts to eat away at the bone. This can lead to fractures of the mandible (the lower jaw) which are often not fixable!
The gum is a very vascularised (has lots of blood vessels to it) part of the mouth. If the bacteria in the mouth is severe then the bacteria enter into the blood stream via these blood vessels in the gum. Once the bacteria has entered the blood, it gets carried around the blood system and can affect the heart and kidney with irreversible consequences. The bacteria in the blood can also lead to septicaemia.
How do I know if my pet has dental disease?
There are many signs which can point to dental disease. It is worth bearing in mind that some breeds of dogs and cats are more susceptible to this condition than others. Pugs & Yorkshire terrier seem to be the most affected, however dental disease can occur in any breed and at any age.
- Halitosis (bad breath).
- Brown staining on the teeth and redden gums.
- Starting to be picky with food.
- Chewing on one side.
- Not eating
What do I need to do if I noticed my pet has some of the signs?
Firstly you will need to take your pet to the vets so they can establish how bad the dental disease is. On some occasions it is possible to reverse the situation by brushing with a special animal toothpaste containing antibacterial properties. And giving a selection of chews and toys which may help your pet get rid of a mild build-up of plaque.
If your vet on first examination can see that the dental disease is advanced then they will book your pet in for dental treatment, such as a scale and polish and possible extractions.
What will happen to my pet if they are needing dental treatment?
If your pet requires dental treatment they will need to stay with us in the surgery for the day. You will be asked to bring your pet in, in the morning to be admitted by one of our vets.
Your pet will then have a thorough examination where the vets check their heart, lungs and general health.
Once they have had their examination your pet will be given a pre medication and their anaesthetic. Unfortunately it is impossible for us to assess exactly how severe the dental disease is without a full anaesthetic.
Once your pet is settled under the anaesthetic the nurse will monitor them throughout the procedure. The vet will begin a thorough oral examination. This consists of probing the gum to assess if bacteria has damaged the supporting tissues around each tooth, to see if there are any loose teeth, examination for oral masses and ulcers, examination of each tooth for fractures, discolouration and any residual baby teeth.
Once a full assessment has been made the teeth will be scaled before any extractions take place, this helps reduce the risk of septicaemia. Once the mouth is clean the necessary teeth (if any) will be removed. We remove the teeth rather than fill them as animals do not cope well to dental fillings and their reasons for removal is essentially for different reasons. It is also good to remember that no teeth are essential for life! Dogs and cats can still carry out the same activities as they would do with a full set of nashers! Even gun dogs and service dogs!
Once the removals have been carried out the vet will then polish the remaining teeth. Your pet will then recover in their pen whilst the nursing team continue to monitor them.
Once your pet has made a full recovery we can then discuss how to prevent your pet from having a dental again.
How can I prevent my pet getting dental disease?
Dental disease is completely preventable.
By far the most reliable way to prevent this disease from occurring is to brush your pet’s teeth. This helps keep the teeth and gums healthy and reduces plaque levels in the mouth.
You will need to introduce your pet to tooth brushing slowly as they can easily be put off by rough handling or using the wrong equipment.
If you would like to be shown how to brush your pet’s teeth then please make a free appointment with our dental nurse. Our dental nurse will be able to show you the correct equipment to use and discuss how to encourage your pet to get used to brushing.
If your pet will not tolerate having their teeth brushed there are other ways to help your pet keep a healthy mouth.
There are many different chews and toys which can aid keeping their teeth clean. However they are not going to achieve results such as brushing, but they are a good substitute. Please call our dental nurse for advice on which chews can be harmful and which chews can be of benefit.
Are there other dental conditions my pet can suffer from?
There are many other conditions that can cause pain and problems in the mouth.
Retained milk teeth
Retained milk teeth are often seen in toy breeds such as miniature dachshunds. These can cause problems with overcrowding the mouth. If the teeth are too tightly packed together then bacteria can build up between the milk tooth and the adult tooth. Therefore increasing the chances of dental disease.
Malocclusion is where the teeth don’t line up in the correct ‘bite’.
Sometimes this can cause abnormal wear on other teeth in the mouth if the top and bottom teeth rub together. Occasionally teeth can affect the gum and actually penetrate the soft tissues around.
Some malocclusions will need to be corrected by specialist surgery or correction aid, other malocclusions can be corrected by removing the damaging tooth.
Tooth fractures can occur many ways. It could be anything from a fight, Road traffic collision or simply from chewing on the wrong things.
If your pet has a fractured tooth this can lead to severe pain, stopping them from eating and even from being themselves. If the sensitive pulp from the centre of the tooth has been exposed then this can introduce bacteria into the tooth root causing similar effects of dental disease, not only that it will be very painful. Removal is the best treatment for this.
Tooth abrasion can be caused by some toys and chewing sticks. Tennis balls are the worse culprit. They have an abrasive layer of felt that when carried in the dog’s mouth can wear down the teeth, this is worsened by once the ball is dropped on the ground the felt will pick up grit and have a sand paper action on the tooth.
Wearing of the teeth usually don’t cause a great deal of problem, however if the pulp is exposed then the tooth will deteriorate.
If you see that your pets tooth is discoloured in any way it could mean that they have at some point ‘bruised’ their tooth. If the tooth gets knocked by something hard then the pulp becomes swollen, as the pulp cavity is surrounded by the hard structure of the tooth, then there is nowhere for it to swell, causing pain.
Caries is another name for a cavity. It is more common in large dogs to develop cavities. Their large molar teeth have naturally large crevices, food collects in these areas and a cavity is formed. Removal of the tooth is the only treatment.
This is a condition which commonly occurs in the cat, it is very rare to be found in the dog.
This condition is a very painful condition. It is a demineralisation process which starts at the junction between the tooth and the gum. The tooth continues demineralising through the hard structures of the tooth into the pulp cavity. The roots also becomes affected and the tooth will become very painful and very unstable.
This condition may go unnoticed for some time as the process is fairly slow to develop and cats tend to ‘hide’ their pain and discomfort very well.
Removal is the only option to relieve this condition.
Conditions of the gum
There are several different conditions of the gum the most common being gingivitis.
This simply means inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis commonly occurs as a process of dental disease. However it can also occur from various immune system diseases, especially if there is no plaque or calculus present.
This is another condition which mainly occurs in cats. This is down to an immune response, this response is usually a reaction to the bacteria in the mouth. Quite often complete tooth removal is the answer!
Lumps in the mouth are certainly not to be ignored as they can quite often be linked to cancer it is essential that you visit your vet swiftly after finding a lump in the mouth. They will usually remove it and have it analysed to see what type of mass it is. There are benign and malignant tumours that grow in the mouth so it is essential that the right treatment plan is made for your pet.