Dental problems can lead to pain, infections which spread elsewhere in the body, and the loss of your pet’s ability to chew or eat properly. As a side effect, your pet also won’t look or smell as attractive! And no, whiffy cat or dog breath is not normal.
Prevention is much, much better than cure when it comes to dental disease. The good news is that with regular care you can pretty much guarantee your pet continues to sport a very clean and healthy set of gnashers, right into their old age.
Lift the Lip Campaign!
Many owners do not think to check their pet’s mouths until it is too late and the symptoms of dental disease are severe and obvious. All owners should get into the habit of ‘lifting the lip’ of their pets regularly to check for problems with teeth and gums. Other symptoms to look for include lethargy, eating difficulties or a change in eating behaviours (sometimes leading to anorexia), drooling, a change in character to become less sociable or even aggressive.
The main types of dental disease are Periodontal disease, which affects the supporting structure (gums) around the teeth, and endodontic disease which affects the teeth themselves. Pets can also suffer from orthodontic problems which are caused by bad jaw and or teeth alignment.
80% of pets over 3 years have Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is very common and the nasty effects of this disease are in no way limited to the cosmetic (e.g. smelly breath and brown teeth).
It begins when plaque (salivary proteins and bacteria that have thickened to form a bio-film over the tooth) builds up and is allowed to calcify and form into tartar. This tartar is not in itself harmful but it harbours and protects plaque in its casing.
Early signs are indicated by a thin red line along the gum line and the appearance of blood when brushing. This inflammation along the gumline is known as gingivitis. If you see these signs you should act quickly to prevent it developing into full-blown periodontal disease.
If nothing is done, periodontitis can eventually lead to a loss of gums and the supporting bone structure around the teeth. This damage is irreversible and the damaged areas create a perfect home for harbouring bacteria.
At the advanced stages, periodontal disease is a silent killer, spreading infections elsewhere around the body causing heart disease, liver disease, and kidney diseases. Other problems include jaw fractures, a hole in the nose and inevitably a lot of pain for your pet.
Prevention & care at home
So now we know how common and damaging dental disease is but how do we act to prevent this happening to our pets?
Regular, routine dental care is the key to preventing dental disease. Daily brushing with a pet toothbrush or finger brush is the only way to make a serious impact on the formation of plaque and tartar. You should not use human toothpastes as these contain fluoride. Instead use a special pet toothpaste with a meaty flavour to entice your pet.
When you are brushing, push the paste down into the bristles and ensure you target the gum margins. Start at the back of the mouth on the molars where decay is more likely. If your pet tires of the activity and runs off you will at least get this higher risk area clean. If the gums do bleed a little don’t be put off as this should reduce with time as you brush more regularly.
If your pet is new to brushing or nervous about the toothbrush then start gradually. Gently get them used to you having a finger near their mouths and gradually increase the amount of time you rub your finger on their outer teeth. Once they accept your finger, try adding tying a piece of clean gauze or bandage material around your finger and introduce a small amount of paste as you rub the teeth.
Always reward your pet after a brushing session, either with petting or a treat so they get a good feeling about the experience and don’t start to dread it.
Other home dental care options
Many dog chew toys are designed to help clean some of the plaque from teeth and massage gums. Of course, this is not a substitute for daily brushing but every little bit helps and dogs also get psychological benefits from having safe chews available at home. Rawhide chews can also fulfil this function.