Dental pathology is one of the most common conditions we see in Veterinary practice, but usually unnoticed by pet owners. We all understand the importance of good oral hygiene in ourselves, but sometimes forget that it is just as important in our furry friends. The most common dental diseases we see in our clinic are tartar and gingivitis, fractured teeth, periodontal disease, and feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL). These conditions can not only cause chronic and often unnoticed pain and discomfort, but can also lead to severe diseases of the heart, kidneys, liver and lungs. Dental hygiene should therefore be taken very seriously and is one of our main focuses in preventative medicine.
Dogs and cats develop deciduous or “baby” teeth at 2-3 weeks of age and permanent teeth which start to appear at 3 months of age. Adult cats will end up with a set of 30 permanent teeth, and dogs up to 42 teeth. Lost deciduous teeth are not usually seen as they are often lost or swallowed. Dog and cats teeth are made up of a set of incisors, canine teeth, pre-molars and molars.
Identifying Dental Disease
Halitosis or bad breath is a common finding with many forms of dental disease in our pets. Tooth pain is another symptom, but is not as easily recognisable. Some pets will have trouble eating or be completely off their food if they are in pain, others will just appear “off colour” or even become “grumpy”. Some of the visual signs to look out for are:
Tartar and gingivitis
Caries or tooth decay
Furcations (exposed gap between the tooth roots)
Appearance of gum growing into a cat’s tooth is suggestive of feline odontoclastic resporptive lesions (FORL).
If you notice any of the above signs or symptoms, it is recommended that you have your pet checked by your Veterinarian as soon as possible.
Caring For Your Pet’s Teeth
There are multiple things you can do at home to help prevent dental diseases. One of the most effective methods of keeping your pets teeth clean is by brushing. Brushing should begin early, between six and eight weeks of age, to get your pet used to it. Try starting with your bare finger, then upgrading to a finger brush and finally a proper tooth brush. You can then introduce pet toothpaste, which is designed to be swallowed, so never use human toothpaste. Try brushing your pets teeth as frequently as possible, but is most effective if done daily. You only need to brush the outside of the teeth as the tongue usually keeps the inside surfaces very clean. A Veterinarian may also recommend an antiseptic dental gel to apply to the gums after brushing.
There are also a number of chewable toys and treats which can not only help keep your pet’s teeth clean, but also keep them occupied for hours. Bones also work very well in removing plaque, but they should always be fed raw and in rare occasions they can result in a fractured tooth. Dry foods are a lot less likely to cause tartar build up compared to wet food. There are also a number of specially designed dry food available which work extremely well in preventing plaque and tartar build-up, and are very useful for those pets that are prone to dental disease. If you feed your pet fresh meat, it may help to feed it diced or in strips, rather than minced to promote chewing.
Watch the following videos by Dr Mike Ontiveros for a demonstration on how to brush dog’s and cat’s teeth.
Veterinary Dental Care
An important part of your pet’s annual health check is a dental exam. This should be performed at least yearly and will allow the early detection and prevention of dental disease or more serious painful conditions which may not be immediately obvious. If early plaque or gingivitis is discovered, your Veterinarian may reassess your pet’s diet or discuss other oral hygiene measures. For more serious tartar, a dental clean under general anaesthetic may be necessary. Fractured teeth, periodontal disease and FORLs may lead to extractions of the affected teeth to prevent pain and other consequent conditions. Root canal and filling treatments can also be performed on certain damaged teeth to avoid extraction. This can be discussed further with your Veterinarian.