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Pet Oral Health

For most of us, caring for our teeth and gums has always been part of our daily routine but often we forget that our pet’s teeth require care as well. Oral disease is one of the most common health problems treated in pets, with 80% of dogs and 70% of cats displaying signs of oral disease by the time they are three. Poor oral health doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth, it can put your pet’s health at risk and impact their quality of life and behaviour.

Oral disease begins with a build-up of bacteria in the pet’s mouth. This bacteria, combined with salvia and food debris between the teeth and gums, causes plaque to form on the tooth surface. As the bacteria grow in the plaque and calcium salts are deposited, this plaque turns to tartar. If the tartar is not removed from the teeth, pockets of pus may appear along the gum line and further separate the teeth from the gum, which allows more food and bacteria to accumulate. Without treatment, this plaque and tartar build up may cause irreversible periodontal disease. Periodontal disease causes red and swollen gums. The gums often recede and bleeding is common. Bone destruction and tooth loss combined with severe pain and infection is often seen at this stage. Pets with dental disease can suffer from other illnesses when the bacteria from infected teeth and gums enters the bloodstream. The bacteria travels throughout the body, negatively impacting vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver and lungs.

Signs of irreversible dental disease

Once your pet displays these signs, serious dental disease is likely to be present. Don’t wait for these signs to appear, ensure your pet has a regular yearly preventative dental care health examination with your veterinarian.

All pets are at risk of developing dental problems, although dental disease is more common as pets grow older. This is usually a result of a lifetime of disease accumulation rather than just getting older. Some small dog breeds and some breeds of cats are more likely to develop dental disease as their teeth are often over crowded.

What can we do to prevent oral disease?

Preventative dental care is best started when the tooth surface is clean. Beginning some form of dental care when your pet is a puppy or kitten is ideal but after a dental scale and polish is the next best time.

Preventative Dental Scale and Polishing

Often our vets will recommend a dental scale and polish for your pet before suggesting daily dental care. Unfortunately our pets aren’t that good at sitting patiently with their mouths open so a general anaesthetic is required to have their teeth examined and scaled properly. Firstly hand held scaling forceps are used to crack the thick layer of tartar from the tooth surface and then ultrasonic dental scalers are used to remove any remaining tartar from all surfaces of the teeth. During scaling, minor chips and scratches may be created on the tooth surface. These aren’t visible but if left, they provide an ideal site for plaque attachment. Polishing the teeth smoothes the tooth surface and removes any remaining plaque. During the scale and polish procedure all the teeth are checked for mobility and decay.

Products to maintain oral health

There are an abundance of products on the market which can assist you in maintaining your pet’s oral health.

Toothbrushes and Toothpastes - Daily brushing is best, but even brushing your pet’s teeth at least three times a week is effective in removing plaque and reducing tartar. Most animals can be trained to enjoy tooth brushing especially if brushing is started when they are young.

Specially formulated foods - Good oral health can be achieved by feeding a diet that is specially formulated to clean teeth such as Hills t/d and Hills science diet range. The kibble in these diets is designed to scrub each tooth like a toothbrush and freshens their breath at the same time.

Chews/treats - Some chews and treats help control plaque and tartar build up by mechanical abrasion. Their texture allows the teeth to sink into the chew maximising tooth contact which causes scraping and scrubbing of the tooth surface.

Water Additives - Water additives such as Oxyfresh help prevent the accumulation of bacteria in the mouth which in turn reduces plaque build-up.

Chew Toys - Toys such as Kong Dental Sticks are designed to reduce plaque while providing a gentle abrasive clean and conditioning of the teeth and gums.

We recommend discussing your pet’s oral health with our veterinarians or veterinary nurses during a preventative dental health care examination before deciding on a particular product. We can assist you in deciding on a homecare plan based on your circumstances and pet’s needs.

Don’t risk dental disease, tooth loss and other serious health problems. It’s important that your pet has a dental health care examination at least yearly to maintain optimum oral health.

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