A trip to the dentist

Cat having its teeth checked

Dental care is one of the areas of pets health that can easily be overlooked. We sometimes simply accept that our pets are bound to have bad breath and feel that there isn’t much we can do about it.  But did you know that there is actually quite a lot that we can do as pet owners and veterinarians?

Dogs and cats, like us have two sets of teeth. The first set are called deciduous and are only present for short period of time – they often lose them by approximately 3-6 months of age.  This means  their second and final set of teeth need to last them for the rest of their lives.  So what can we do to achieve this?

  • We recommend getting your puppies and kittens used to having their teeth brushed from an early age – aiming to do so at least once daily.  This give you the opportunity to inspect their teeth and gums regularly meaning that any problems or concerns are identified and dealt with in good time.
  • Avoid chews that cannot be dented by the human fingernail as these are too hard for our pets’ teeth and can cause fractures of the tooth.
  • don’t allow your pets to chew stones, balls and bones as it wears down the tooth due to the abrasive texture as well as causing fractures.  Dogs are often the culprits here so keep a close eye on them.  Imagine the soft fluffy tennis ball that lands in dust and dirt then being picked up by your dog in the park – this is now essentially a piece of sandpaper rubbing against the surface of your pet’s teeth.
  • Dry biscuits that are large and chewy such as Vet Essentials can help to reduce plaque levels – the root of all evil when it comes to dental care.  The gums will actually recede away from the tooth if plaque is present just to try and avoid it.  Once the gum recedes it cannot be rectified meaning that the root of the tooth becomes exposed and vulnerable to infection and loss of teeth.
  • Regular dental checks with your vet. At Calder Vets we incorporate a full dental exam with our annual booster health checks but our nurses also offer free dental checks so you can also have a half yearly check.
  • Dental chews certainly have their place in the dental care of our pets, however their ability to reduce plaque levels is not as effective as brushing. They exercise the ligament that helps to hold the tooth firmly in the gum.

So what happens if you encounter a problem with your pet’s teeth?

Our vets will carry out a full oral exam and identify any problems/conditions with your pet’s teeth, gums, tongue and oral mucosa.  It may be they are not able to do this consciously if your pet is a little shy so may recommend either a sedation or general anaesthetic to allow them to fully examine your pet.

Each tooth will be assessed and any non-viable teeth can be extracted; the tartar will be removed from all remaining teeth, followed by a scale and polish of the teeth.  When performing a scale and polish the aim is to rid the tooth surface of any plaque and this includes the area of tooth that is just underneath the gum line. This is a very delicate area which can be easily damaged, which is why patients must be anaesthetised for the procedure.  Once all the teeth have been scaled they’re finished off with a polish to smooth over the tooth surface.

Sometimes people can worry if their pet is having dental extractions but rest assured we will never remove a tooth that can be saved.  We want your pets to keep as many of their teeth as possible but keeping a tooth that should be extracted will not only cause your pet pain but it can also lead to other health problems too such as a tooth root abscess and kidney, liver and heart disease, due to the bacteria seeping into the blood stream via the gums.  When performing dental work our veterinary surgeons will often perform dental x-rays to assess the tooth’s root as well as the bone structure of the upper and lower jaws. This means we can plan extractions more effectively leading to fewer complications.

You’ll be surprised how many pets still eat dry food even after multiple extractions – they’re much happier with fewer teeth that are healthy rather than lots of unhealthy, painful teeth.

Worrying trends

Something that’s gaining more and more interest recently are anaesthetic free dental cleanings.  They may seem appealing for reasons such as reduced cost compared to a full veterinary dental care treatment, and for owners who worry about their pet undergoing an anaesthetic.  However, there are lots of reasons why these treatments should be avoided:

  • Often the people performing these treatments are lay people with no veterinary training.
  • It isn’t always possible to carry out a full oral and dental exam in a conscious patient.
  • It’s not possible to safely, accurately and effectively scale under the gum line in a conscious patient meaning plaque is left behind. This leads to a false sense of security in owners, meaning rumbling dental issues go untreated until it’s too late to rectify the problem.
  • There are very few patients that will stay still for such a procedure. With sharp instruments in the patients mouth the risk of injury to your pets and the person performing the dental cleaning is very high.
  • Most pets will find the procedure extremely distressing which could lead to fear association.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s dental care, please contact your local Calder Vets branch where our staff can help.