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How important is dental care for our 4-legged friends?

Dental care is VERY important for our pets in the exact same way it is to us. When your pet becomes an adult, they will only have one set of teeth. Dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30, these teeth replace a baby set of teeth. THESE TEETH WILL WEAR DOWN – unlike the situation in rabbits, where the teeth grow throughout life
(although this can cause its own problems!). In every tooth, there is a nerve. As you wear down your tooth, the nerve becomes more prominent and will be stimulated by pressure on the tooth when you chew causing pain. In addition, the build-up of plaque (bacteria) on the teeth will cause infection of the gums, which can be VERY painful and even lead to tooth loss.

How do I clean my pets teeth?

You should start dental care at a young age. Your pet needs to get used to having its jaw opened before you start trying to brush its teeth. The length of time you brush the pet’s teeth for should be gradually increased – you’ll need to be patient. Try to do this at the same time each day, maybe before bed when the pet is feeling tired, allowing it to fit into the routine. NEVER use human toothpaste for pets – especially dogs – as this is often toxic. We can provide specialised dog/cat toothpaste (or it can be found in your local pet shop). You can use chews and chew toys which can get rid of a build-up of plaque on the teeth, but this should be used in addition to other treatment and not relied upon solely, as it will only clean above the gumline, not the dangerous plaque under the gums.

Can I assess my dog?

You should see your vet every 6-12 months regarding your dog’s teeth, but you should also regularly check your dog’s teeth. We can teach you how to gently open your animal’s mouth to look inside. You should then be able to look at the colour of the gums, the shape of all the teeth on both the bottom and top jaw. You should also assess the front and back of the tooth. You should look at the colour of the teeth and smell the dogs’ breath. Any changes in these factors could be signs of disease. You might want to take photographs, so you can spot differences more easily. You may never know that your animal has dental disease until the symptoms are obvious, meaning that the disease has already progressed to new stages.

A change in the colour of the gums can indicate gum disease or irritation in the area. The colour can also inform you how well blood is being transferred into the mouth and therefore how well nutrient and oxygen delivery is. These should be a salmon pink colour if the animal is healthy. By looking at the shape of the teeth, you can identify if the teeth have become chipped or if they are getting worn down on one side more compared to the other side. This could show that they are chewing on one side of the jaw more than the other which would suggest that one side of the jaw is causing pain. Chips in the tooth are normally caused by injury. This could be from fighting or chewing something dangerous in the environment. Chipped teeth may cause pain, so it is important to visit the vet if you notice a chip in the tooth. All the teeth will be a slightly different shape so do not be alarmed that they do not all look the same. You may notice small gaps between the teeth that never used to be there and that the tooth appears to be longer due to the gum receding, this can also be a sign of gum disease.

The colour of your dog’s teeth will change quickly. The teeth should be white, and the colour should be consistent across the whole surface of the tooth. You will see a build-up of white plaque on the teeth which will then stain yellow and black eventually. A change in breath should be assessed because any bacteria or build-up of pathogens can cause a change in smell. Cleaning your dog’s teeth can help to immediately improve the smell of your dog’s breath. Periodontal disease is common, more dogs have this disease than not once they are over the age of 3! It occurs as plaque builds up on the surface of the tooth. As plaque builds up on the teeth, natural salts in the saliva cause the plaque to harden and form tartar. Toxins, bacteria, and enzymes that are trying to break down food become lodged in the plaque and start living here. This starts to irritate the gums, changing their colour and making them painful and sensitive – this is called gingivitis. The gums may bleed at this point. The plaque continues to build up, destroying the tooth. The tooth will become more exposed because pockets will form, and the gum line will recede. The tooth will start to become more sensitive now too and discolouration will be seen at the base of the tooth. These are signs of periodontitis. In extreme periodontitis, the teeth become more discoloured and look black around the gums. The teeth appear to be more spaced out due to the decay progressing and separating them. You will then see the gums have totally different colours across them. The periodontal ligament and bone surrounding the tooth becomes weaker as it gets destroyed. The tooth will eventually fall out in this stage or require removal if the pain becomes too excruciating.

By taking care of your pet’s teeth, we can help to prevent lots of diseases. Disease on the teeth can cause animals to stop eating because they associate the pain from their teeth with eating. This can then lead to weight-related conditions as well as mineral/weight-related diseases; in addition, dental disease is linked to heart problems, kidney failure, and even arthritis!

Preventing these serious diseases is much cheaper than treating the disease – talk to us for advice!