Dental health is incredibly important because most pets only have one set of adult teeth! Dental health can affect the health of the rest of the body and vital organ function which is why it is key to maintain good oral health. Dental screening and regular checking of the mouth can highlight changes in bodily health.
Checking your pet’s mouth from a young age is best. You are able to learn what your pet’s mouth looks like when it is normal and healthy allowing you to see a change when damage or disease occurs. Opening and closing your pet’s mouth from a young age will help make them more tolerant of the procedure, hence less stress experienced in the process. This additionally makes it easier for vets to examine them when needed and can prevent the use of an anaesthetic (helping to save money and to reduce the time of the procedure).
REMEMBER: prevention is always better than cure!
Stages of dental disease and why an x-ray can be the best diagnostic method
Every time your animal eats, a layer of plaque will build up on the surface of the tooth. Plaque is a white substance which builds up and accumulates on the tooth. Dissolved substances in the saliva causes it to harden forming tartar. Tartar can calcify and this shows up as being brown on the teeth, or as a brighter white colour on a radiograph (the image obtained from an x-ray). This change in colour highlights the start of periodontal disease. Tartar takes around 4 days to form but its growth is stopped by the removal of plaque.
Tartar sits in the gum and causes the bone beneath it to resorb, reducing the bone density and strength of the bone that holds the tooth into the socket. Reduced bone density often leads to jaw or tooth fractures. This reduction in bone density can be seen clearly on an x-ray as the image appears less opaque making it a clear diagnostic tool for our vets. X-rays are a great tool for spotting fractures, cavities or impacted teeth. The colour a tooth shows on an x-ray indicates the health spread across the tooth, allowing any areas of weakness to be identified. There are many different positions in which we can take x-rays from, allowing a full view of the mouth to be obtained.
X-rays are also great to monitor the health of the mouth too, as we can save images and compare them with images obtained after. This is important, as different animals have different shaped mouths and different shaped teeth meaning it is a lot easier to say when disease or trauma has had its effect. Pets will need a sedation or anaesthetic in order for a radiograph to be taken, but this also allows a full examination of the oral cavity by eye with no extra stress to the pet.
Why dental disease is a problem
Any bacteria growing in the mouth and getting trapped underneath the gum will tend to be absorbed into the bloodstream. They may accumulate in different areas of the body causing different symptoms and infections. Different bacteria groups find it easy to multiply rapidly so an infection within a vital organ can occur rapidly! As more and more bacteria gets trapped under the gum it becomes inflamed. This is called ‘gingivitis’ and causes the gums to appear red, swollen and tender.
Regular checkups ensure teeth are kept healthy. If periodontal disease starts, it is chronic, meaning you will never completely get rid of it; however, as an owner, you are responsible for keeping on top of the disease and slowing down its manifestation.
Without proper dental care, the teeth will become weak. This will make it harder for your pet to eat. They may even lose the tooth altogether! They may experience pain when performing the normal action of eating. This may mean they need a different diet which could be costly and stressful to alter.
Weak teeth may mean they fracture easily especially when playing with other pets or with their toys. You do not want these natural behaviours and experiences, which should be fun for your pet, becoming painful.
Poor dental hygiene and disease lead to your pet having smelly breath. This makes them more unpleasant to socialise with! Providing regular chew sticks can be a simple way to help remove plaque.
However, the key to good dental hygiene is regular brushing to remove plaque before it turns to tartar – so talk to our vets or nurses to learn how!