DENTISTRY AND DENTAL DISEASE.
Dentistry is a rapidly growing area of veterinary science. We have seen a greater awareness over the last 25 years of its importance to the overall health of the animals we treat.
Just like humans, pets’ teeth need looking after too! The health of their teeth and gum's has a significant impact on their overall quality of life. Imagine how your mouth would feel, and smell, if you never brushed your teeth. Imagine having a really bad toothache and not being able to tell anyone about it!
Dental disease can worsen other diseases and hasten their progression simply by causing systemic bacterial infections that can isolate out onto the valves of the heart and other organs in the body, and into the joints of limbs. The state of health of the mouth is a good indicator as to the overall state of health of any animal. And that includes humans as well. This is something dentists and veterinarians have known for a long time.
What causes dental disease?
An imbalance between the numbers of ever-present bacteria in the mouth, the body's ability to prevent or heal the damage they do, and the body's immunological competence combine to provide the foundation (or not) for the development of periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease begins with a build up of bacteria in your pet’s mouth. Bacteria, combined with saliva and food debris, can cause plaque to accumulate on the tooth. As calcium salts are deposited, plaque turns to tartar (brown or yellow material starting near the gum line of the tooth). Without proper preventive or therapeutic care, plaque and tartar build-up leads to periodontal disease (disease around a tooth), which affects the tissues and structures supporting the teeth. Periodontal disease can cause oral pain, tooth loss and even heart or kidney problems.
Common signs of dental disease, in order of severity, include:
Yellow-brown tartar around the gum line
Inflamed, red gums (gingivitis)
Change in eating or chewing habits (especially in cats)
Pawing at the face or mouth
Pain or bleeding when you touch the gums or mouth.
Gums receding from the normal margins of the teeth to expose tooth roots.
- Loose or missing teeth.
Sometimes a diseased tooth forms a draining abscess (a localized collection of pus) below the eye.
If your pet is showing any of these signs of dental disease, please book an appointment to see one of our veterinarians. Early assessment and action can save your pets' teeth.
How does periodontal disease develop?
The narrow grooves where the gums normally meet the teeth are inhabited by bacteria. In a healthy mouth, the gum tissue protects itself from these bacteria. As periodontal disease develops, bacteria invade the gum tissue and cause infection.
The body attempts to fight off the bacterial infection, resulting in inflammation of the gums. The gums swell and separate from the teeth, allowing food to become trapped between the teeth and gums. Bacteria thrive on this food, causing plaque to build up in the groove and above the gum line on the surface of the tooth. Eventually, the plaque can become mineralized to form tartar.
Bacteria continue to flourish on this plaque and tartar and further infection of the gums takes place. Eventually this infection leads to the destruction of the gums and other supporting structures, resulting in the loss of teeth.
Some of the factors that can contribute to the development of periodontal disease include:
skin conditions that cause a lot of itchiness resulting in an animal chewing at itself and accumulating hair in between the teeth;
immunosuppressive diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in cats;
conformation problems with the mouth;
long hair around the muzzle that gets dragged into the mouth at feeding and drinking times;
- Retained primary deciduous teeth contributing to overcrowding of the mouth and providing easy spots for the accumulations of food, hair and other matter;
RETAINED PRIMARY DECIDUOUS CANINE (LEFT) SITS FLUSH WITH NEWLY EMERGING PERMANENT CANINE.
How is periodontal disease diagnosed?
Classic periodontal disease with dental resorption and gingivitis.
Periodontal disease is diagnosed by an examination of the mouth. The best time to have your pet's mouth checked is at the time of a routine consultation.
How can I prevent dental disease?
Long-term control and prevention of dental disease requires regular home care. The best way to begin this is to accustom your pet from an early age. Dental home care may include:
Brushing teeth daily – just like us! This is the best form of dental hygiene. Pet toothbrushes (or soft toothbrushes designed for children), finger brushes and toothpastes are now available. Please do not use human toothpaste formulas on your pet as they are not designed to be swallowed and may be toxic;
Feeding pets raw meaty bones, chunks of raw meat or special dental (detergent) diets can help reduce the accumulation of tartar;
Using dental toys, enzymatic chews, or teeth cleaning chews, all of which may help keep the teeth clean;
Using drinking water additives for dogs and cats that are formulated to not just freshen your pets' breath but help to decrease bad breath by preventing the development of plaque and tartar;
Clipping the fur short on the muzzles of dogs helps to prevent dental problems by preventing fur being dragged into the mouth when your pet eats or drinks;
- Making sure that your pets' skin is healthy - flea control and allergy treatments are very beneficial to dental hygiene - if your pet doesn't itch, it won't chew or lick at itself and this will reduce oral contamination, plague and tarter development.
Regular and frequent attention to your pet's teeth may avoid the need for a professional dental clean under anaesthetic, and will also improve your pet's overall health.
What does a professional dental clean involve and how can periodontal disease treated?
Veterinarians use exactly the same procedures as human dentists to clean and treat teeth and mouths. However our patients won't sit still in a chair with their mouths wide open while we carry out a comprehensive cleaning of their teeth or any necessary extractions, radiographs and other surgical procedures to ensure good oral health. For this reason our pets need to have a general anaesthetic for a professional dental clean. Your pet will need to be assessed by one of our veterinarians. The degree of dental disease will be assessed to determine if extractions, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories will be required.
The assessment may also include a physical exam, blood tests and urine tests to ensure they are healthy prior to having an anaesthetic. Once anaesthetised, we can give the teeth a thorough cleaning using our specialised dental equipment. When your pet goes home we will also discuss methods of reducing dental disease in the future.
If a patient suffers from severe dental disease antibiotics may be prescribed for a few days prior to treatment commencing.
The patient is anaesthetized and the teeth are cleaned using manual and ultrasonic procedures to remove plaque, calculi (tartar); food and debris. Severely affected teeth are extracted and other dental procedures are performed as necessary. Antibiotics and pain relief drugs may be prescribed post-operatively.
Once a full dental is complete, unless your pet receives careful attention at home, signs of disease may soon reappear. If plaque and tartar are again allowed to build-up on the gums and teeth, infection recurs. The goal of home care is to prevent the build-up of plaque and tartar and thus decrease the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
What are the consequences if dental disease is left untreated?
If left untreated, periodontal disease can eventually result in the loss of teeth, chronic gum and jaw bone infections and generalised debilitation of an animal. Infections that establish in the mouth can invade surrounding bone as well as the sockets of teeth. These same infections can spread through your pet's blood into other parts of the body causing problems elsewhere: heart disease; kidney disease, joint disease, tonsillitis, gum disease, loss of teeth; loss of jaw bone density; pain on opening the mouth and chewing; lung infections and generalised debilitation, lethargy and listlessness.
Animals that suffer from immunoincompetence caused by diseases like Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline Leukaemia Virus or a wide range of autoimmune diseases; as well as pets on chemotherapy treatment and certain other medications will be even more susceptible to the effects of chronic dental disease and its associated problems cause by infections.
Because the onset of dental problems is often slow, pets may not show symptoms straight away. As symptoms gradually worsen animals may even compensate for the effects of dental disease, masking illness until it's fairly advanced and the animal is quite sick.
As part of your pet's yearly check-up we will check your pets' teeth and advise you if there is a problem and what can be done about it. There are some pets who will always have dental problems regardless of what is done for them at home by way of diet, home dental care and good grooming however with the right sorts of management programmes in place we can help you to minimize the problems caused by chronic recurring dental disease.
If you have any questions about dental care or professional cleaning please do not hesitate to contact us.