Dental month is both loved and cursed throughout the veterinary world. We love educating owners on the importance of dental care and helping the animals; but teeth start appearing in your dreams and your arm muscles ache because so many dentals are coming in to the clinic. And let me tell you dentistry is hard work! It requires considerable skills and some muscle, particularly when removing bear teeth!
Why is dentistry so important?
Dentistry is important because, just like us, the teeth are an important digestive tool for our pets and are the gateway to the rest of the body. When teeth become infected it not only causes oral pain and damage but can actually affect the entire body! The bacteria from the teeth can enter the blood stream and cause damage to many organs, in particular the heart and kidneys.
Why can’t I just give my dog a bone?
The conformation of a dog and cat’s jaw has changed over the centuries due to selective breeding and domestication. Wolf and lion teeth do self clean to an extent because the teeth are aligned to do so. But we have bred for cute breeds with smooshy faces which caused teeth to be overcrowded, misaligned or too spaced out. This allows food to become trapped within the oral cavity and leads to tartar build up and subsequent dental disease. Our pets also live far longer than wild animals making dental disease a more common occurrence in aged pets.
If having clean teeth was as easy as adding something to our water, chewing on rope or eating a dental treat why would us busy humans bother brushing our teeth twice a day and getting an annual dental scale and polish? The answer is because those things don’t work! They will help REDUCE tartar build up and prolong time between the dentists but ultimately they are not enough on their own.
How do we prevent dental disease in pets?
The best way to prevent dental disease is brushing your pet’s teeth daily. Now I understand this is sometimes easier said than done, but if you have a new pet or your pet would tolerate training it is a very worthwhile thing to do.
The second best prophylactic option is dental diets. It is important to remember not all diets were created equal. The only diet to have scientifically proven affects on both tartar AND gingivitis is the Hills Science Diet T/D (tooth diet). The Royal Canin dental diet has been shown to reduce tartar, and many dental diets are more abrasive which will help.
Giving dental treats, using mouth washes or water additives and dental toys will help reduce the tartar on your pet’s teeth. They are still worthwhile to use but it is unreasonable to expect them to prevent dental disease.
Sometimes no matter how much prophylactic treatment you do your pet will still get dental disease. This can happen in humans too – just because you brush your teeth every day doesn’t mean you never visit the dentist.
In an ideal world pets should be receiving a dental scale and polish under anaesthetic every year or two. This helps get rid of all the bacteria and tartar build up that may have been missed during brushing. It is also the only way to clean under the gum line, which is where dental pain, infection and root problems exist.
How to grade teeth
It is important to remember 80% of pets over the age of three will have some degree of dental disease. Grade 1 is the ONLY grade that is completely reversible – many pet owners (and even veterinarians) don’t get concerned about fixing grade 1 dentals BUT if we perform prophylactic treatment at this stage we can prevent major dental problems.
It is also important to remember once there is gingivitis (gum inflammation) dental disease becomes painful!
Tartar on teeth, mild gingivitis, NO BONE LOSS
Tartar on teeth, swollen gums, gingivitis, and gums may recede slightly exposing more of the crown of the tooth, by this stage there will be up to 25% bone loss. At grade 2 there is permanent damage to the structure of the tooth.
Tartar and calculus build up on teeth, swollen and red gums, gums receding to expose root of tooth, significant bone loss
The only treatment at stage 3 or above is removing the tooth.
Try and grade your pets teeth at home, or even take a photo and post it on the Vet Tails facebook for me to grade for you. If you have any questions about pet dentistry please don’t hesitate to contact me or your local veterinarian for advice. Looking after your pets teeth is a very important part of their physical health.