Ten Tooth Truths!

How much do you know about your pet's teeth? Sadly, many pet owners don't think about their pet's teeth often enough with the result that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats suffer from dental disease by the age of three.

To help you keep your pet's teeth healthy, consider the following ten tooth truths:

1. Tooth disease is the commonest disease seen in pets.    Top
As most of us don't look at our pet's teeth on a daily basis, we don't realise that dental disease is developing. The result is many pets unnecessarily suffer tooth loss, gum infection and even death from associated infections.

2. If your pet has bad breath, it probably has dental disease.    Top
Bad breath is more than likely due to bad teeth. The smell permeates from a stale stew of decaying food particles that mix with the pet's saliva. Bacteria flourish in such conditions and this fermenting bacterial stew smells.

3. Pets with tooth decay show behaviour changes.    Top
Dental disease hurts and an affected pet can be in constant pain. This will often manifest as a change in the pet's behaviour. Aggression is a common result, but the pet may be morose and reclusive or it may be reluctant to eat and may rub its face on the ground or paw its face regularly. The pain often causes drooling.

4. Some breeds of dogs and cats are more prone to dental disease.    Top
Smaller breeds, such as Poodles, Maltese Terriers and Chihuahuas, have more problems with dental disease than larger breeds. Also pets with short noses such as Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, the Pekinese and similar breeds are more prone to tooth decay because they have too many teeth for the amount of room in their small jaws.

For the same reason, Persian cats have their share of tooth turmoils and the Abyssinian is also prone to dental disease.

5. Dental Disease can cause irreversible damage.    Top
As plaque and its grubby bacterial gang continue to proliferate on the teeth, calcium salts are deposited and these develop into concrete-like deposits called tartar. If untreated, infection sets in and a condition called gingivitis occurs. Gingivitis is usually reversible. However, when this is untreated it leads to periodontal disease which is irreversible. Periodontal disease causes infection and erosion of the bone around the tooth, eventually causing tooth loss.

6. Dental Disease affects organs other than teeth.    Top
With advanced dental disease, the continuous entry of dangerous bacteria into the circulation causes serious and sometimes fatal disease in the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs. These bacteria float from the infected gums like rafts and eventually adhere onto heart valves and into the minute capillaries in other organs where, like seeds, they grow and cause deadly infections.

7. Soft foods make a pet's teeth dirty.    Top
Dogs on primarily canned diets and other soft foods are more likely to suffer from dental disease because such foods have no abrasive action to clean the teeth and worse, they are sticky and adhere to the tooth surface.

Minimise canned foods, minced meats and soft treats and your pet's teeth will remain healthy. Don't feed pets human foods because human foods are very soft by nature.

There are dry food 'dental diets' available that have specially formulated kibble to clean your dog's teeth by removing plaque and tartar with every bite.

8. Bones and good quality dry food help to keep a pet's teeth clean.    Top
Raw meaty bones are good toothbrushes but it's not just the bone but the chunks of meat that are important. While attempting to strip the meat from the bone, your dog is flossing its teeth and removing the concrete-like tartar that accumulates too readily.

Bones should always be raw. For cats and small dogs, chicken wings and necks are good. Meaty lamb shanks and the smaller ox-tails are good for medium-sized dogs and for the big boys, larger ox tails, marrow bones and brisket bones are good.

However, some dogs cannot tolerate bones or don't eat them safely and there is also a danger of broken teeth from hard bones, along with gastrointestinal obstruction and trauma. Alternatives include rawhide chews, pigs' ears and similar chew treats or, if your dog will eat them, the humble carrot is a safe and wonderful toothbrush.

9. Brushing a pet's teeth is the best way of keeping a pet's teeth clean.    Top
While specially formulated dry foods assist with keeping teeth healthy, the gold standard of pet dental care is for you to brush your pet's teeth. Regretfully most pet owners don't do this but it is not a difficult task.

You will need to get your pet used to having its teeth brushed and a little training and patience are needed.

10. Yearly Check Ups.    Top
Your last task is to ensure your pet has a yearly dental check-up. This is best done at the time your pet has its yearly vaccination and its once-a-year heartworm injection.

Should your pet's teeth need to be cleaned, a short anaesthetic will make the job easier for all. After the cleaning, practice your home dental care program and your pet's teeth will remain in good condition.

Dr Cam Day BVSc BSc MACVSc