Dogs and Cats teeth are basically very like ours and as such really should be brushed every day and in many cases scaled and polished every year: unfortunately, not many pets realise it! In this leaflet we will discuss the causes of dental problems and their prevention, as well as how we treat any problems we can't prevent.
The Cause of Dental problems
Just like us dental plaque, which is a soft yellow/brown deposit made up of food residues and bacteria, builds up on the teeth over a period of time. If not removed it absorbs minerals from the saliva to become a hard covering called dental tartar. This can then rub on the gum causing gum erosion and ulceration, which leads to gum infection and loosening of the teeth as well as holes in the teeth, known as dental caries. This process is painful and after a time the affected teeth will either fall out or have to be removed.
As an owner you may notice your pet having difficulty eating or eating on one side of the mouth, crying with pain whilst eating, bleeding from the mouth, swellings on the side of the face under the eyes or a nasty fishy smell. The foul smell comes from bacteria which live in the plaque on the teeth, breaking down food deposits and producing the foul smell.
The only effective treatment for dental tartar is ultrasonic scaling under a general anaesthetic followed by polishing to make the surface of the teeth smooth and non-stick again. Usually we also prescribe a course of antibiotics to kill any bacteria living in the cracks and crevices of the teeth and gums.
Treating dental plaque can be much simpler. Anything that scrapes it off the teeth does the job. This can be voluntary on the pet's part, such as chewing a bone or eating special food or treats, or can be involuntary, such as brushing the teeth with an abrasive toothpaste and toothbrush. We can also use enzymatic gels which, if put into the mouth regularly, will help dissolve the dental plaque before it becomes dental tartar.
Smelly breath is caused by a bacterial infection in the mouth and will usually respond to antibiotics but if plaque and tartar are still there it will come back in a short while.
Most pets have about forty-eight teeth as an adult and the time, discomfort and cost involved in trying to save a damaged tooth is usually not justifiable. Therefore, we often advise removing seriously damaged or loose teeth. Obviously there are cases where we recommend trying to repair the damaged tooth and we may then refer you to a specialist veterinary dentist. If you are very keen to preserve your pet’s teeth do discuss this with us, so that we can plan the best course of action.
What we are trying to do here is stop the build-up of dental plaque as this causes the caries and leads to the formation of tartar. As we have said plaque is soft and quite easily removed. Several methods are available. Regular brushing with toothpaste.This is quite effective if your pet will let you do it at least once weekly, but should be done daily.
- The veterinary abrasive toothpastes, e.g. CET, are very effective if brushed in well, however this requires a great deal of goodwill on the part of your pet.
- The enzymatic toothpastes e.g. Logic will help if they are smeared around the teeth although brushing is strongly advised. These should be used daily: weekly will rarely be effective.
- Ordinary human toothpastes often contain fluorides and are toxic if swallowed regularly: unfortunately persuading our pets to spit them out is very difficult and so we strongly advise not using them!
- Toothbrushes. We would recommend using a fairly soft toothbrush with a long handle, especially in big dogs. This can be a special pet one, either from us or a pet shop, or a child's toothbrush from the chemist. We also recommend the finger brushes, especially if your pet is not used to having his teeth cleaned.
Feeding special treats
Special food has been made for pets that help clean the plaque off the teeth:
- Dental chews made by Royal Canin are quite good at slowing down the build-up of plaque but contain lots of calories and so you must always reduce your dog's main meal when you give them. Also they are very salty so they must be used with care especially in older dogs.
- Hills t/d & RCW Dental can either be used as a treat, especially at bed time or as a complete food and works very well. The teeth puncture the biscuit and scrape themselves clean as they sink into it. It is rare for a pet to swallow them whole as they are purposely too large.
- Bones can be very effective, however they can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as blockages if swallowed, and so must be used with care. The best bone is a head of a long beef bone. But do monitor your pet’s bone chewing.
- Plaqueoff is an oral preparation for the reduction of plaque and calculus made from seaweed. These are granules put onto your pet’s food. It seems to help prevent plaque build-up if used regularly.
- Vet Aquadent is a solution added to drinking water. It contains chlorhexidine an anti-plaque agent and xylitol which limits plaque and tartar formation.
- Kongs are specially designed toys which are grooved and which you can smear with toothpaste. They can help prevent plaque build-up and can be great fun too!
Some pets have problems with tartar, some do not. If yours does, try regular brushing of the teeth and treats that will help to keep the teeth clean. Remember, clean teeth not only help your pet’s breath smell better but also they keep them healthier.