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At Orchard Vets, we not only want to help your pets if they are poorly, but also prevent them from getting unwell in the first place. And probably the most common illness we see in pets is dental disease.
As many as 80% of pets over three years old suffer from some degree of gum disease. This starts as very mild changes: just a small amount of reddening of the gums, known as gingivitis. If not addressed this progresses to periodontal disease, loss of tooth attachment and even the tooth itself, and painful infections in the mouth. These infections can even pass into the bloodstream, potentially causing problems with other organs such as the kidneys or heart.
The cause of all these problems? Bacteria, which form into a sticky ‘biofilm’ known as plaque. This sticks to your pet’s teeth and gums, and the bacteria produce toxins that lead to gum inflammation. We can’t see plaque, but we don’t remove it, it hardens into tartar or calculus – the brown material you may be able to see on your pet’s teeth. Calculus is rougher than the tooth surface, so bacteria stick to this even more easily.
Eventually, the inflamed gums start to retreat away from the bacteria – a process known as gingival recession. The bone in which the tooth sits is also attacked and lost. If enough attachment is lost, the tooth may fall out. This process is very painful and uncomfortable for the pet, though they will almost never show this obviously. One of the most common comments we hear when checking patients after a dental procedure is that the animal seems so much ‘brighter’, ‘happier’ or ‘younger’ – now they are no longer suffering from chronic dental pain.
So what are the signs of periodontal disease?
With severe periodontal disease in toy breed dogs, bone loss in the lower jaw can weaken it so much that it can fracture – even just with the action of chewing!
So how can you prevent dental problems in your pet? The most important thing is to find some way of cleaning their teeth at home!
Veterinary dental treatments – Whenever you bring your pet to see us, we examine their mouth. The vet (or nurse) will advise you of their findings. They may recommend that you book the pet in for a full dental procedure. This is done under general anaesthetic, and we:
If we carry this out at an early stage, it is less likely that teeth will be severely affected and need extraction. We brush our teeth twice daily, and still visit the dentist for an examination and scaling regularly, so we should really plan for most pets to have a full treatment under anaesthetic every few years. The better your home care, the less frequent these will need to be!
Dr Lucy Fleming MRCVS