We all want the best for our pets and we would certainly never see them in pain or suffering without intervening. However, dental disease can be a common feature in many animals’ lives, causing them a great deal of discomfort, without an owner ever being aware.
Vets should check inside mouths at every visit and owners can be on the lookout for signs of an issue such as red gums or bad breath. Owners also have the option to provide preventative care such as tooth brushing (when tolerated!). Remember, prevention is better than cure and the earlier periodontal disease is addressed, the better the prognosis.
MYTH: An animal who has a sore mouth will stop eating.
FACT: An animal will only stop eating when they have completely given up. This is because in the wild, deciding not to eat anymore equates to certain death. It’s true that those with dental pain, abscesses, oral ulcers etc. may alter their eating habits, but this is not always the case and owners should not rely on this sign to know if something is wrong. Some pets with advanced dental disease will begin to refuse hard biscuits and chews, preferring to chow down on wet meat and pâtés. Others may lick the jelly off their food, ignoring the meat completely. Importantly, some won’t change their eating habits at all.
MYTH: Young cats and dogs can’t get dental disease.
FACT: Pets can develop dental issues at any age. Younger animals may suffer with misaligned or extra teeth which can cause a multitude of problems. A common scenario is a juvenile with retained deciduous teeth that are beginning to retain plaque and cause local inflammation. Similarly, young cats are relatively prone to gingivitis. This is why vets will check inside pets’ mouth at every visit, regardless of age.
MYTH: You can’t brush your pet’s teeth.
FACT: As vets, we advise tooth brushing in both cats and dogs once their adult teeth have come in. While some animals take great offence to us doing this, the benefits are vast. Brushing teeth on a regular basis reduces the build-up of plaque and calculus and prevents bad breath. Animals are far less likely to require dental cleaning under anaesthetic in later life and the lower bacterial burden means an overall healthier pet. Owners can make the experience more pleasant by using flavoured toothpaste. Finger toothbrushes are often preferred for smaller dogs and cats. Animals can generally be taught to tolerate brushing if it is introduced gradually from a young age.
MYTH: My pet won’t allow me to brush its teeth so there’s nothing else I can do.
FACT: Luckily, we have plenty of ways to prevent dental decay, even for those pets who flat out refuse to let their owners brush their teeth. Potential measures include:
- The use of an enzymatic powder in food or water which reduces plaque levels and prevents bad breath
- Regularly applying an enzymatic gel to the teeth to reduce bacterial levels
- Feeding a dry biscuit diet instead of wet food
- Offering certain dental chews to help remove food from teeth
MYTH: My pet is too old for a dental treatment.
FACT: Animals are rarely too old for an anaesthetic and dental cleaning and the vast majority will benefit greatly. In fact, most patients who have their teeth cleaned are senior citizens, so vets are more than prepared to deal with their additional needs when under anaesthetic and during the recovery period. Older animals tend to have the most advanced dental disease and may suffer with painful infections and wobbly teeth. This can make eating difficult and can even lead to weight loss. Many owners are astounded at how much better their animal does after a dental treatment, claiming they have a completely new lease of life.
MYTH: Dental treatments are an absolute rip-off!
FACT: While we can’t speak for every veterinary clinic, most vets will try to make dentals as affordable as possible (however, this does not mean cheap). While us humans are thoroughly spoiled by the NHS in the U.K., no such system exists for our pets and the cost of private dental care can be off-putting. What we need to consider is that the cost will not only include a full general anaesthetic and monitoring by nursing staff, but also a complete dental cleaning carried out by a vet. On top of this, many patients will require pre-anaesthetic blood work, dental x-rays, tooth extractions, intravenous fluids, pain relief and antibiotics.
Delaying or putting off this necessary treatment will typically result in even worse dental disease and an animal that is suffering. The cost of treating this patient may then be even higher as they could potentially need additional teeth extracted and longer courses of medication.
MYTH: Bones are good for teeth.
FACT: Bones can actually cause teeth to fracture when eaten. Whether cooked or raw, most vets will advise we steer clear of feeding bones because of the potential risks involved. Bones can also cause gut impaction and painful constipation. There are chews available on the market specifically designed to keep teeth clean that are far safer to give. Do, however, keep an eye on the calorie content of these chews as feeding them too often can result in a porky pet!
MYTH: Root canals are only for people.
FACT: Dentistry is becoming more and more advanced within the veterinary world and specialists exist who can perform procedures that we wouldn’t even have dreamed of 30 years ago. As well as root canals, veterinarians can even perform crowns and orthodontic treatments.
MYTH: My groomer can clean my animal’s teeth just as well as the vet (and for a fraction of the cost)!
FACT: Some groomers have started to offer teeth cleaning on conscious animals. While you may well pay less for this service, you tend to get what you pay for. Owners need to be aware that the people carrying out this procedure usually have no qualifications and could potentially do more harm than good.
It is impossible to fully examine the mouth of an animal without anaesthetic and serious dental issues could easily be missed. Bacteria remain below the gum line and, while teeth may look cleaner, they may be no healthier than before the cleaning. Diseased teeth are left in the mouth rather than being extracted and groomers are unable to prescribe medications such as antibiotics or pain relief. Groomers can be invaluable in recognising the signs of dental disease thanks to their experience and owners should absolutely listen to them if they advise a dental cleaning. This should, however, be carried out by a vet!