Opinion

It’s all in the smile!

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September 15, 2016

As August is dental month, this week’s blog refocuses on the common; and hugely underrated, problem of teeth and gum disease.

Many pets suffer in silence (because they aren’t human so we don’t recognise their subtle signs of mouth pain!). Hopefully this information will have you all teaching your pets to say “aaaaahhhh”.

How does tartar form, and what does it do?

Plaque is an invisible coating. It is a bacterial coating that forms on the teeth within a few hours of a meal. Within 24 hours, plaque starts to harden into calculus or tartar.

Tartar is harmful in two ways.

First, it serves as a place where bacteria can reside and multiply in the mouth. There is substantial scientific evidence that bacteria from tartar get into the bloodstream and is deposited in various organs.

Heart and kidney disease may result.

Second, tartar builds up at the gum line. As the tartar deposit gets larger, it pushes the gums away from the roots of the teeth and eventually the teeth will loosen and fall out.

What are the clinical signs of dental disease?

Signs of dental disease include smelly breath (halitosis), difficulty eating – especially dry food – and loss of weight. Some pets will still eat dry food but will not chew it at all.

Remember – some pets may only have a slight smelly breath and no other signs! It is worth having the mouth checked if concerned.

What can I do if my pet has dental disease?

To determine the best treatment you will need to bring your pet to your veterinarian for a consultation. Your vet can then check your pet’s teeth and gums and discuss the options of treatment with you.

If there is a lot of tartar buildup and gingivitis (inflamed gums) it is likely a teeth scale under general anaesthetic is the best course of treatment. The preventative treatments below are then used to prevent recurrence. Antibiotics are often dispensed before and after the teeth scale. This helps reduce the bacterial infection in the mouth so there is less chance of bacteria entering the blood stream and damaging body organ

How can I prevent tartar formation on my pet’s teeth?

Here are a few steps which will help to reduce the process of plaque and tartar build up.

1. Brushing of the teeth is the most effective means of removing plaque before it turns into tartar. We advise only using toothpaste made especially for pets. Teeth cleaning needs to be performed daily.

Please ask your veterinarian if you are interested as this is now universally understood to be the “gold standard’ in preventing teeth and gum disease.

2. Feed your pet a prescription diet specially formulated to reduce tartar buildup. These diets have been formulated as a dry food and are composed of large pieces. Because the pieces are too large to be swallowed whole, your pet must chew them. These preparations contain fibres that literally scrape the plaque off the teeth without damaging the enamel. They also have some chemical ability to clean teeth. By removing plaque as it forms, tartar formation is greatly diminished.

3. Use a mouthwash, called Aquadent, that is added to your pet’s drinking water. This type of product reduces the bacterial count in the mouth, resulting in improved breath and reducing plaque.

4. Encouraging chewing of dental chew toys (e.g. Kong toys, Kong wobblers, Aussie Dog toys, Greenies or Dentastix). Dogs which chew more tend to accumulate tartar more slowly. Please ask your veterinarian – we are happy to show you these toys and they also make great Boredom Busters when your pet is home alone.

5. Raw bones? New evidence suggests bones can cause more harm than good. Many veterinary dentists and emergency vets do not recommend their use as bones can cause tooth fractures and even cause bowel blockages. I leave it up to you to decide but advise that if you do use bones, ensure that they are ALWAYS raw and not too small for the pet (i.e. could be swallowed whole).

As mouth pain can become a huge welfare issue for your pet, please remember to monitor their teeth and gum health. Red gums = pain, so if you’re seeing red gums – do something about it.

All of this information is incredibly important as it will help keep your pet happy and healthy.

‘Oscar’ was recently in for a free dental check.

He had bad breath and when his mouth was checked it was seen that he had very red gums over a rotten tooth which stopped him chewing properly on that side. He also needed a couple of loose front teeth extracted.

‘Oscar’ was given antibiotics before the teeth scale to stop any spreading of bacteria through his system. As he is over nine years old, we did a quick urine test on him to check he didn’t have early kidney problems or diabetes (he didn’t), placed him on intravenous fluids (a ‘drip’) to keep his organs hydrated, and removed the offending teeth. The remaining teeth were scaled and polished to prevent further tartar forming.

“Oscar” bounced back quickly, and will feel much better without his painful teeth.

Now his owners will be using some of the preventative methods above to reduce that nasty plaque and tartar that caused his dental problems.

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