Poor dental health is something VERY commonly seen in pets. Dental health is so important because pets only have one set of adult teeth – once they are gone, that is it!
Both human and animal teeth are made up of the exact same components: enamel, pulp, cementum, dentine. This means pets’ teeth can stain, change shape, become sore and fall out, just like human teeth. It’s recommended that we brush our teeth at least twice a day, for at least 2 minutes each time, in order to maintain tooth health and dental hygiene. Ideally, pet dental hygiene would be the same… below, we will explain about tooth health and how we can keep our furry friends happy and orally hygienic.
What do healthy teeth look like?
A healthy tooth should be one colour; a pearly white ideally, with no staining or gradual colour change across the surface of the tooth. It should fit securely into the gum and should not appear loose. A healthy tooth should be in line with the rest of the teeth and not be twisted.
Good dental health requires healthy gums. The gums should be pink in colour, smooth and moist – signs of gum disease typically include reddening and swelling of the gums near the teeth.
How do teeth become unhealthy?
Whenever your pet eats, a layer of plaque will build on the surface of the tooth, often very close to the gum line. Plaque is a white substance, which builds up and accumulates on the tooth. Different amounts of plaque are produced depending on the food eaten. Dissolved substances (mainly minerals) in the saliva causes it to harden, forming tartar. If plaque is left on the tooth for longer than around 4 days, it can calcify to tartar, making it very hard to remove.
Tartar often sits between the gum and the tooth, trapping colonies of bacteria next to the sensitive gumline. These cause gingivitis (gum inflammation), and eventually this results in periodontal disease. In this condition, the bone socket holding the tooth in place to begin breaking down, reducing the bone density, making it weaker and increasing the chance of loose teeth and fractures. This can be very painful and is why toothache is never something to ignore! The cause is often a chronic disease.
Once periodontal disease has started, it is chronic (ongoing), and this is why dental hygiene is so important.
What actually causes toothache?
There are multiple causes of toothache, including tooth infections and abscesses, tooth decay, and fractured teeth. However, gingivitis and subsequent periodontal disease are the most common.
The nerve or pulp is the sensitive part of the tooth. It’s located in the centre of the tooth. The surrounding enamel and dentin protect the nerve, enabling us to feel sensation around our tooth but not feel the pressure so much that it hurts. When dental hygiene deteriorates due to plaque and additional bacteria not being removed from the surface of the tooth, the protecting layers around the nerve may become thinner, exposing the nerve. This makes the teeth much more sensitive to pressure, meaning weaker stimuli cause pain.
What are the signs of poor dental health?
As teeth become decayed, you may notice changes in colour and shape. The tooth may be loose at the gum and slightly move upon pressure. The gums may be bright red, swollen and bleeding.
Many pets with poor dental health will have smelly breath due to the bacteria growing in the mouth. They may dribble a lot, too. Dribbling can be a sign of excessive pain. Toothache is common alongside poor dental health and this pain may prevent your pet from eating specific foods and could even prevent them from eating at all.
Poor dental health can have an effect on lots of different organs throughout the body, as bacteria penetrate the damaged gums and enter the bloodstream. Heart disease and kidney failure, for example, are commonly linked to poor dental hygiene.
How can I ensure my pet has good dental hygiene?
You should ensure your pet has a good diet. You can speak to any of our team at the practice for further specific guidance on the nutrition needed to prevent additional plaque build-up.
Dental sticks or hard chews can be good as the scratching and force on the surface of the tooth helps to dislodge any plaque formed. However, they often contain too many calories to be used routinely; and rawhide and bone chews can cause blockages to the intestine if swallowed.
Brushing your pet’s teeth is the best option. If you are able to brush your pet’s teeth, please do. It is best to start this from when your pet is young to get into a good routine. We are able to teach you to do this, however if your pet does not like having their mouth touched, the additional stress may not be worth it. We offer sedation in order to give the teeth a thorough exam and clean in these cases, as and when necessary.
Monitor their dental health regularly. Look out for changes in colour, shape and size of the teeth, sore gums or smelly breath. Prevention is better than cure and if you notice a slight change in their oral health, it is better to get it sorted sooner rather than later!