Dental disease is one of the most common health problem in pets, reportedly affecting over 80% of adult dogs and, according to some studies, 70% of adult cats. Yet it is also one of the most underdiagnosed, with many owners not knowing why it’s a problem, or what to do about it! In this blog, we’re going to look at how you can help your pet to keep their pearly white smile.
What is dental disease?
“Dental disease” is something of a catch-all term we use to describe a range of disorders of the mouth, teeth and gums. Among the most important ones are tartar and plaque (bacteria building up on the teeth causing discolouration), gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontal disease (infection of the tooth sockets, that eventually results in tooth loss).
Why is it important?
There are a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a cosmetic problem if your dog has green or brown slimy teeth (it also tends to give them very, very bad breath)! However, dental disease can also lead to severe pain – a cat who is eating slowly might not be relishing their food, but enduring the pain. Tooth loss will occur eventually, but dog and cat teeth are firmly anchored, and often the infection has persisted for weeks or even months before that happens. In addition, dental disease is associated with heart problems and kidney failure.
The first sign is often that bad breath! You may also notice staining on the teeth, progressing to thick chunks of tartar. As the disease progresses, the gums become reddened and inflamed, and may be visibly swollen or bleeding. Eventually, the gums recede, the mouth becomes painful (which can lead to behavioural problems, too) and your cat or dog may even stop eating and drinking.
How can I prevent it becoming a problem?
Prevention is much, much better than cure – so start as early as you can, ideally when they’re still puppies or kittens, although it’s never too late to pay attention to your pet’s mouth.
The most important thing you can do to prevent dental disease is to brush your pet’s teeth. After all, you brush yours, why are theirs any different? And yes, you can brush a cat’s teeth, it is perfectly doable (but it is easier if you start early). Start with a finger brush (like the ones used for small children) and get some dog- or cat-toothpaste. Don’t use human varieties though – the mint flavouring can burn their mouths. Gently rub some of the meat-flavoured paste onto their gums with a finger, and then gently run the finger brush over the teeth. As they get used to it, you can brush properly, just like you do your own teeth, and gradually work up to using a proper dog- or cat-sized brush (we stock them, or you can buy them from reputable pet food shops, in store or online). Ideally, you want to be brushing daily, but 3 times a week is the minimum to have a really sustained beneficial effect. Brushing will not only prevent tartar, but will also remove much of what’s already present!
In addition, it may be helpful to use a pet mouthwash. This is a liquid that you add to the drinking water to prevent (but not remove) tartar from forming. Again, make sure it’s a pet version, not a human one.
Finally, there are also some commercial diets that are designed to help reduce tartar – however, they tend to be rather less effective than brushing if used on their own.
What happens if I can’t stay on top of it?
At that point your pet will need a dental procedure – under anaesthetic, we’ll check all their teeth, remove any rotten ones, and scale and polish to clean and tidy the remainder. However, in most cats and dogs, you can delay or even prevent them from reaching this stage with good regular tooth brushing!