Dental disease is extremely common in all of our companion animals, though some breeds of cats and dogs tend to be more prone to problems than others. So what is it, and what can you do about it?
Dental disease occurs when a mixture of bacteria, saliva and food builds up around the teeth forming a film called ’plaque’. This causes ‘gingivitis’ (inflammation of the gums) which can be very sore and uncomfortable. Over time plaque will continue to form on the teeth until it solidifies into yellow-ish ‘tartar’ – this is when it becomes visible to you as an owner. If left to develop further the gums recede, and the tooth roots and ligaments weaken and start to rot, causing the teeth to loosen. By this stage bacteria from the mouth can start to enter the bloodstream, causing septicaemia and problems with internal organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys…so dental disease is not only a cosmetic issue!
Early dental disease can be reversible with appropriate homecare, but once it becomes more severe the only way to rectify the problem is to take your cat or dog to the vets for a ‘dental’ where the teeth are cleaned and any loose or rotten teeth may be removed. This can only be performed under a general anaesthetic. All anaesthetics carry a small degree of risk; dental disease becomes more common and more severe with older age, and age also adds to the risk factors of an anaesthetic, so prevention of dental disease is always better than cure.
How to prevent Dental Disease
The most effective way of preventing dental disease is by daily toothbrushing, just as we do for ourselves! There are lots of toothbrushes and toothpastes out there specifically designed for pets, so make sure you use one of these – not human products. Click here to have a look at a pet toothbrush! Try to start early: it is best to get your pet used to having their teeth cleaned when young as they are likely to accept it more easily and many will start to really enjoy it!
If you have an adult cat or dog and are just beginning dental care, then persevere and hopefully your pet will get used to it! Start by getting your pet used to having their lips played with, and then move onto brushing with a finger brush and some toothpaste. Try to hold your pet’s mouth closed so they can’t accidentally bite you, or lick the paste off the brush! Then gently brush the teeth, working your way to the back of the mouth.
Even if you don’t have time to brush the teeth daily trying to do it three times weekly can still be very helpful. If, however, your pet simply won’t tolerate brushing there are still other options you can try to help keep dental disease at bay…
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