Foul breath in our beloved dogs or cherished cats is often taken for granted – four legged friends are hardly expected to have sweet smelling mouths! However, the various odours emanating from these mouths are often a sign of dental disease and may have a bigger impact on our pet’s overall health than once believed.
While once thought to just be about oral health, it is now known that what is going on in the mouth of your pet also affects their heart, liver and kidneys – not to mention your nose!
In its mildest form, dental disease is an accumulation of bacteria on the teeth, resulting in a covering of plaque and tartar. As it progresses, the damage from bacteria causes:
- Inflammation around the gums (gingivitis)
- Pain around the teeth and gums
- Damage to the root of the teeth
- Infection around the teeth and gums
- Infection can progress to set up severe bone infections
In addition to foul breath and sore mouths, dental disease can impact various internal organs. The mouth has an excellent blood supply and the damage to the heart, liver and kidneys comes from bacteria moving through the blood stream into these organs. The heart is the most common site of trouble. Bacteria in the blood causes damage to special valves in the heart that help maintain the blood’s one way flow. This damage results in a heart murmur and cardiac disease. Over time, the damage to the heart can lead to heart failure – a progressive, fatal disease.
With this new knowledge, helping keep your precious pet’s mouth clean and healthy has become increasingly important. So, what are the signs of a problem in your pet’s mouth? And what can you do about it?
Signs - have your vet help you identify these problems:
- Yellow or brown covering part or all of the teeth
- Swollen and red gums
- Foul odour
- Grey or blue on the teeth, especially up near the gumline
- Gum line receding - revealing more tooth than normal, including the very sensitive root
- Losing or missing teeth
- Reluctance to eat
Fixing dental disease in your pet depends on the severity of the problem. Regular at home care, combined with veterinary examinations and treatment will help maintain optimal dental health.
Good oral hygiene starts at home, every day, to help maintain good dental health:
- Brushing teeth: Just like for people, daily brushing is the best way to control dental disease. Using a pet specific toothbrush and toothpaste, brush just the outside surface of the teeth. Start slowly and train your pet to cooperate with having their teeth brushed.
- Dental diets: There are a number of dental diets on the market designed to help scratch the surface of the tooth reducing plaque and tartar build up. Some are also formulated to alter the mouth’s environment so fewer bacteria can survive on the tooth surface.
- Dental chews: Several companies have designed specific treats to help scrape the tooth surface and reduce plaque and tartar build up.
- Raw bones: Some animals do quite well with bones, while others struggle with the fat content of bones and get an upset stomach. If you are unsure if bones are ok for your pet, check with your vet for guidance.
- In water additives: various products can be added to your pet’s drinking water to help combat the bacteria.
- In food additives: various powder products can be added to your pet’s food to help combat the bacteria.
If plaque, tartar or ginigivitis have started on your pet’s teeth, you will need assistance from your vet to eliminate the plaque and tartar and carefully examine each tooth. To thoroughly examine all the teeth in the mouth, and clean near and above the gumline, your pet will need an anaesthetic.
While your pet is asleep, your vet is able to access all the teeth in the mouth, including the molars way at the back, which are hard to see when your pet is awake.
While under an anaesthetic, your vet can examine up around the gumline and even take dental x-rays if necessary.
After the teeth are meticulously examined, your pet’s teeth can be scaled and polished – removing all the plaque and tartar on the surface of the teeth. If there is plaque starting above the gum line, near the root, special instruments can be used to remove this too.
Loose or damaged teeth can be fully examined while your pet is asleep and treated as necessary. Sometimes this means removing the diseased tooth. This will help look after your pet’s overall dental health, and make their mouth much more comfortable.
Looking after your pet’s oral health is crucial to looking after their overall health and well-being. If you have questions about your pet’s mouth, speak to your veterinary care team for instruction and guidance to help your pet live a happier, healthier and good breath life!