The Truth Behind Good Tooth Care

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How does your pet tell you they have a health problem? Normally, we have to rely on seeing symptoms. But, by the time these symptoms appear, health issues can be irreversible.

This is definitely the case with dental problems in our pets.  A whopping 80% of pet dogs over the age of three have some form of dental problem but it’s often disregarded as unimportant or left until the problem has irreversibly worsened.

What are the symptoms of dental problems?

  • Bad breath
  • Reluctance to eat (or difficulty eating)
  • Drooling
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Grumpy or depressed
  • Digestive issues
  • Pawing or rubbing at their mouth

The stages of dental disease:

Key terms:

Gingivitis – Inflammation of the gum tissue.

Periodontitis – Inflammation of the tissue around the teeth.

Dental disease is progressive and, as it gets worse, the possible health implications get more serious. Initially, we may notice a build-up of plaque on your pet’s teeth. Plaque is made up of bacteria and food protein. When plaque hardens it is known as tartar. This contains bacteria, which enters the bloodstream, possibly causing disease in vital organs such as the heart and liver.

Stage 1 – Mild Gingivitis caused by unseen plaque.

Stage 2 – Moderate level of Gingivitis; gums may appear inflamed and swollen. There may be an accumulation of plaque. You may notice your pet’s breath is a bit worse than normal! At this stage, the damage done is reversible if treated promptly.

Stage 3 – Gingivitis has now become Periodontitis. Gums will be puffy and sore and all teeth may have a heavy tartar covering. There is also likely to be damage below the gum line. Pets are likely to be experiencing pain at this point and you may notice symptoms.

Stage 4 – Advanced Periodontitis. The condition is severe and chronic. As well as notable inflammation, there may also be receded, bleeding gums, bone loss and loose teeth. Treatment at this stage should be prompt, and tooth extractions are likely to be needed.

Dental treatment:

Regular check-ups are important for us to be alert to any possible developing dental problems. Our vets will normally advise a scale and polish if they detect the build-up of plaque on your pet’s teeth. This can be seen as a necessary preventative measure because, at this stage, it is still possible to reverse the damage done to the teeth. Waiting until your pet’s teeth are worse can mean that irreparable damage is done in the interim, and your pet will have suffered.

Unlike us, our pets don’t understand that they have to hold still for us to perform dental treatment. For this reason, we have to anaesthetise our patients for this treatment. If we have concerns regarding your pet’s dental health then we may also suggest dental x-rays to help us fully assess and understand their condition.

Preventing dental disease:

The best way to prevent dental disease is by brushing your pet’s teeth. This can sound a bit daunting to start with but it’s very achievable if you introduce it in a structured, gradual way.

As with most things, it’s easier to get your pet to adapt to this if you start when they’re young. However, even adult animals should accept tooth-brushing if the process is introduced gradually and progressively.

Introducing teeth-brushing:

1)      Purchase a specially designed toothbrush and toothpaste. These toothpastes come in either meat or fish flavour and are designed to be tasty to your pets. Never use human toothpaste on your animal as fluoride is toxic to them and animals can be distressed by the foaming.

2)      Get your pet used to having something in their mouth – use your fingers to mimic the motion of the toothbrush along the outside of their teeth.

3)      Now let them taste the toothpaste – see if they’ll lick it off your hand and get them accustomed to the taste.

4)      Use just the toothbrush (with no toothpaste on it) on the outside of their teeth. Be gentle!

5)      If your pet seems happy with all the above, then proceed to using the brush with toothpaste on it. Brush at a 45 degree angle from the tooth.  If your pet seems unhappy or distressed then do not force the process – stop and go back to the last step they were content with until they are happy to progress.

Confused? Ask your local Medivet practice for a demonstration to get you started. One of our experienced staff members will be happy to show you the best way to clean your pet’s teeth.

If you find normal toothbrushes unwieldy then you may want to consider a finger brush (although these do entail sticking your finger in your pet’s mouth!).

Ideally, pet tooth brushing should be done daily but we understand that this is not always possible: aim to brush several times a week.

Some breeds of dogs, such as Yorkshire Terriers and Poodles, are more prone to developing dental problems so keep a particularly close eye on them. Remember that, just as with everything else, dental health will start to be compromised as your pet ages.

Do you have a dental query? Concerned your pet may have a dental problem? For those or any other questions, please call your local Medivet practice by using our online practice finder.

Posted January 21, 2015 by Erica Starling in Preventative Healthcare

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