Does your pet have a tooth fairy?
Periodontitis is the single most common disease that affects our pet dogs and cats. As a vet who specialises in dental disease and oral surgery, Tom Williams BVSc MANZCVS (Small Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery) MRCVS spends countless hours treating animals for this so offers some helpful information on such a common condition, below.
More information can be found about Tom and the services he offers on our dentistry and oral surgery page.
Periodontitis is one of those medical words that can sound intimidating but in everyday language we are talking about advanced gum disease.
It is caused by plaque. Plaque is continuously made and is a constant challenge in the oral cavity. It’s a slimy ‘biofilm’ that readily sticks to teeth. Here it can irritate and damage the gums and other tissues around the teeth and their roots. Once the disease takes hold it’s progressive and will lead to pain and ultimately tooth loss. As well as causing a local problem, periodontitis has been linked to a large number of serious health issues including heart disease and diabetes so we need to take it seriously.
A pet’s immune system and their genetics will massively influence the development and severity of periodontitis. In some individuals a little plaque can do a huge amount of damage where other animals go through their whole lives with no worries whatsoever. It can feel very frustrating if your pet happens to be predisposed. Greyhounds and small breed dogs such as Yorkshire Terriers are notorious in the veterinary world for having a higher incidence of periodontitis. When it comes to cats, oriental breeds such as Siamese and Burmese suffer a similar reputation. Face shape and crowding of teeth is also a factor and with the rise in popularity of dogs like French Bulldogs and cats like Persians, we see more gum disease. Teeth are happiest when they have plenty of space and are surrounded by healthy gum but with short muzzles this is very much compromised.
When you consider looking after your pet’s teeth, there’s not much you can do about your pet’s genetics. You can’t do much about their face shape but there is something you can do which is incredibly effective. Just as is the case with humans, anything you can do to reduce plaque and improve oral hygiene will lead to healthier gums. There are a confusing number of products available that all claim to help with just this. There are mouth rinses and water additives. There are chews and specialist foods. There are bones, rawhides, dried animal parts and more recently deer antlers.
I can’t go into all these products in any great depth but there are a few key points that are certainly worth mentioning. Nothing beats the toothbrush! Nothing even comes close. The mechanical removal of plaque is the gold standard of oral hygiene and the bristles of a brush get into all the nooks and crannies where the gum sits against the tooth. Meat flavoured paste can be used on the brush and they claim to help in all sorts of ways but perhaps the most important thing they do is improve the experience for your pet boosting compliance. It can be more challenging when it comes to cats but most dogs will tolerate it if you introduce it slowly and be patient. The younger you start the better. Studies have shown that the other products offer some benefit and every little helps, especially if you can’t brush, but if you can.. BRUSH!
With a nod towards safety and the cases I regularly see in my dental room, I feel duty bound to give this warning. Whilst it’s very traditional and very much enjoyed by dogs, giving bones is a risky business. They are great at displacing plaque and tartar (which is mineralised plaque) but they are just too hard. So too are deer antlers. Recent research confirmed what a lot of us vets strongly suspected. Dogs chewing on these suffer far more tooth fractures. There’s no point having cleaner teeth if they’re broken.
Finally, if safe to do so, can I encourage everybody to ‘lift the lip’ of your pet and take a look. If you suspect your pet has got established gum disease speak to your vet for advice before you reach for a tooth brush. Brushing sore wobbly teeth will do no good at all and the pain you may cause could cause an irreparable breakdown in trust.
We perform dental procedures at three of our sites on dogs, cats and increasingly on rabbits using equipment you would recognise from your own dentists’ surgery. For more information about the dental services we offer, and facilities we have at Charter, take a look at our dentistry and oral services page.