“Life is short. Smile while you still have teeth!”
Periodontal disease is one of the most common health problems in companion animals and is often overlooked! It is estimated that 80% of all dogs and 70% of all cats older than 3years of age suffer from some form of dental disease.
What causes dental disease?
The process of dental disease begins with the build-up of plaque, which is made up of salivary proteins and bacteria. The bacteria irritate the gums and causes inflammation known as gingivitis.
If the plaque is removed by brushing, the gingivitis resolves and the gums return to normal. If the plaque is not removed, it then hardens into ‘tartar’ or ‘calculus’. The calculus then provides a rough surface for even more plaque to accumulate and a bad breath may be noted.
If inflammation continues, the bone surrounding the teeth is also affected and this destruction results in tooth roots loosening and teeth falling out.
In addition to tooth loss, smelly breath and painful gums, periodontal disease also has an effect on the rest of the body. The constant swallowing and absorption of toxins and bacteria from the mouth can spread to other vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs. In small breeds bone destruction and weak jaws results in fractures.
Some breeds are more predisposed to dental disease than others. These usually include small breeds such as Dachshunds, Yorkies, Min Pins, Pugs and Pomeranians, amongst others. Larger breed dogs are less prone to developing dental disease but can often cause damage to their teeth by chewing bones or stones resulting in factures and may thus need dental work done.
How can I prevent dental disease in my animals?
If we remove the plaque before it has a chance to turn into tartar, we can prevent gingivitis and further deterioration. The best way of doing this is by brushing teeth regularly with pet toothpaste (human toothpaste can cause digestive upsets in pets). Feeding Hills T/D and encouraging chewing with toys such as Dental Kongs can also reduce plaque accumulation. Brushing is not always possible in all animals. We suggest starting early when they are puppies to get them used to it. If brushing is not an option there are other products such as oral gels, oral rinses and water additives.
Once calculus/tartar is already present, however, a professional cleaning is required. Bone destruction cannot be reversed but slowed down and stopped to an extent.
A question we often get asked from pet owners is: “Wild dogs don’t brush their teeth so why does my dog need this?”. Wild dogs often only live to the age of 4 or 5 while domestic animals can live to 18 years! Besides this, the domestication of dogs over the years has changed certain aspects of their physiology and anatomy to make them suited to domestic living making it difficult to directly compare them to their wild counterparts.
How do you treat dental disease?
Unfortunately it is not as easy to ask a dog to “hold still” and “open wide” while you examine and clean their mouth as it is in a human. They therefore need to be put under general anaethetic to allow the vet to get a good look and be able to reach all the teeth.
The teeth are then scaled using an ultrasonic scaler above and below the gumline. This removes all the tartar that has formed as well as the plaque. They are then polished to leave a smooth, shiny surface which makes it more difficult for plaque and bacteria to stick to. At Rivonia Village Vet and Sunninghill Village Vet we perform full dental X-rays on all the teeth. This allows us to pick up any teeth that may look fine on the outside but show signs of disease in and around the roots or bone. This allows us to accurately decide whether a tooth may need to be extracted or whether it is healthy.
Teeth that show irreversible damage, that may be loose or have any bone loss around them may need to be extracted. If left they have the potential to continuously harbour infection and bacteria and can cause pain and even develop abscesses. After extractions the gums may need to be stitched closed using dissolvable suture material. If extractions were performed we generally advise a free follow up consultation to make sure that the gums are healing well.
All anaesthesia can have inherent risks and so we might recommend blood tests or other tests depending on the health status and age of individual animals before sedation and anaesthesia. These tests are done to reveal any problems not detectable by physical examination in consultation.
By brushing your pet’s teeth regularly and scheduling regular (6 monthly) examinations you can provide your companion with a lifetime of fresh breath, clean teeth, healthy gums and strong jawbones. In addition you will keep your pet pain free and in overall good health.