Dental Disease in Dogs & Cats
Dental disease is common in both cats and dogs and as with humans, periodontal (gum) disease is the most common underlying cause. In fact, some estimates suggest that at least 70% of cats and 87% of dogs over three years of age are affected.
Mild gum disease can be seen in your pet’s mouth as a red line along the bottom of the gum, where it meets the tooth. Without treatment, the inflammation will progress so that the attachment between the tooth and the gum is lost, until the roots of the tooth are exposed, the tooth becomes loose and finally falls out. It is often quite difficult to recognise the later stages of gum disease because the tooth is often covered in a layer of calcified plaque (tartar). Dental disease is painful, and can have a role in causing disease elsewhere in the body – however our pets rarely show obvious signs that they are uncomfortable, even with advanced disease.
The underlying cause of gum disease is plaque. Tiny pieces of food and saliva, stick to the surface of teeth, this attracts bacteria that attach and then produce a slime layer (bio-film) to protect themselves – this is plaque. Plaque forms both above and below the gum line and the bacterial toxins start to break down the attachment between gum and tooth. The plaque will then quickly start to calcify to form tartar/ calculus, which looks like limescale.
As dental disease is common and the signs difficult to spot, checking your pet’s mouth is an important part of your pet’s annual booster health check. The vet will tell you whether your pet has dental disease and how severe it is. If you have noticed any symptoms of dental disease, such as those in the box you can discuss this with the vet.
The most effective way to prevent dental disease is brushing your pet’s teeth daily, this mechanically disrupts the plaque layer and prevents any further progression of disease. There are a range of toothbrushes available and it is important to use a toothpaste designed for animals – human toothpaste can contain fluoride and xylitol, which can be toxic to pets. You can also get enzymatic toothpaste, where the enzymes help to degrade plaque. Dental chews, food and oral rinses are also available – but these are all less effective than tooth brushing.
Where significant dental disease is present a vet will recommend that you pet has dental treatment under general anaesthesia. This involves cleaning teeth, exactly as a dental hygienist does for humans, careful examination of each individual tooth for problems and if necessary extraction of diseased teeth. This procedure enables us to remove the plague from below the gum line and gives your homecare routine the best chance of preventing any further dental disease.
If you have any questions or would like further information on tooth brushing please contact the practice. If would like to discuss your pet’s oral health, please make an appointment.