Village Animal Clinic

Canine and Feline Dental Disease

Dental disease has become the number one health problem for both dogs and cats.  It is estimated that without proper dental care, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats will show signs of dental disease by the age of three.

A dental check-up is an integral part of your pet’s annual physical examination.  The veterinarian will inspect the entire oral cavity for loose teeth, inflamed and receding gums, as well as plaque, tartar and odour.  Plaque and tartar harbour bacteria, which then infect gum tissue and teeth roots.

The negative effects of dental disease don’t stop at the mouth.  Once the bacteria penetrate the gums, they enter the bloodstream.  The bacteria can then spread throughout the body, causing damage wherever they settle.  The kidneys, liver and delicate edges of the heart valves are particularly vulnerable to bacterial invasion.

If your four-legged family member is diagnosed with dental disease, a professional dental cleaning, which cleans above and below the gum line, must be done in order to rid the mouth of plaque and tartar.  Because your pet will not “open wide”, this procedure is done under anesthesia.  Anesthesia also allows us to do a much more thorough cleaning under the gum line, which is where most of the real problem is located.  Our anesthetics are chosen with your pet’s utmost safety in mind, and we perform routine blood work before anaesthetizing to ensure your pet will undergo the procedure safely.

As in human dentistry, scaling of the teeth is performed with both ultrasonic cleaning equipment and hand instruments.  The teeth are then polished, which smoothes the tooth surface so it becomes more resistant to plaque and tartar, both of which would return very quickly if teeth were not polished after scaling.

It is then important to rid the mouth of ever-present bacteria so they do not invade the gums, which have been irritated during the cleaning.  Antiseptic fluids are actually flushed beneath the gum line to rid these germs.

Fluoride treatment is then administered.  This decreases tooth sensitivity, strengthens enamel, has some antibacterial effects, and decreases the rate of future plaque formation.

In cases of severe gum disease, the veterinarian may need to extract affected teeth.  It may also be necessary to prescribe antibiotics, depending upon the severity of the infection.

Once the dental cleaning has been completed, it is important that you follow the dental hygiene recommendations made for your pet, to keep the mouth as healthy as possible.

Brushing:

This is easier than it sounds and most pets will adapt to this if you are consistent and patient.  Go slowly and introduce the process step-by-step over a number of days.

  1. Handle your pet’s mouth.
  2. Use your finger to rub teeth and gums.
  3. Rub teeth with pet toothpaste on your finger.
  4. Finally introduce the finger brush or toothbrush into your pet’s mouth.

This will allow your pet to adjust to the whole process.  Never punish or struggle with your pet.  In fact, lots of praise and a treat when you are done will encourage your pet to enjoy the brushing.  Keep in mind that most tartar will form on the outside of the teeth; therefore you should concentrate on brushing the outside.  Using human toothpaste or baking soda is not healthy for your pet and can cause stomach upset if swallowed.  Pet toothpaste is not harmful if swallowed.

Diet:

Soft foods may contribute to dental disease and while hard food, crunchy treats and chew toys help to keep plaque and tartar from building up, they are not usually enough on their own.  There are prescription dental diets that are formulated to remove plaque and tartar.  This may be an alternative for pets that do not tolerate brushing.

Other Alternatives:

Oral rinses and gels are available to slow down the bacteria that causes tartar and plaque build up.  Also, some rawhide chews have enzymes in them that can soften plaque and remove it when chewing.

Even with diligent home care, your pet may need a professional cleaning in the future.  As with humans, some dogs and cats are particularly prone to dental disease.  By cleaning your pet’s teeth at home, you can minimize the need for professional care and ensure that your pet’s mouth remains healthy between visits.