We’re all used to giving our own teeth a thorough brushing morning and night, and though many of us have nightmares about dentists’ drills, a regular toothy check-up is an accepted part of life. It should be obvious, then, that our pets’ teeth need attention too, but for some reason many people forget this. If you imagine the mess our own mouths would end up in if we never brushed our teeth or visited a dentist then you can imagine the toothy troubles that dogs and cats often run into.
Luckily, the design of dogs’ and cats’ mouths – and more importantly, the fact that they don’t spend so much time munching on sugar-laden foods – means that they don’t usually suffer the problems of cavities and decay that beset our own mouths. They do, however, have major problems with gum disease. If we never brushed out teeth or had them professionally cleaned, they would quickly become coated with a layer of plaque, a hardened accumulation of food particles and bacteria that eventually turns into a rock-like build-up called tartar. This accumulation around the base of the tooth can all too easily lead to gum disease. Infections, inflammation and even abscesses can be the result. The inflammation of the gums that is the result of long-term build-up of plaque and tartar is known as gingivitis. If it is left unchecked infections will gradually work into the roots of the teeth, and even deep into the jaw beneath. Once things are this far gone the only solution is for the affected teeth to be removed; a once healthy set of canine or feline nashers can be lost, and there may be other on-going health problems.
The commonest signs of dental disease in both dogs and cats are smelly breath and a visible build-up of plaque or tartar on their teeth. Tartar is usually a brownish colour, staining the lower parts of the teeth. You might notice an animal rubbing its jaws if the gums are inflamed or infected, and it may even start to go off its food as eating becomes painful. If the gums are badly inflamed there may be a small amount of bleeding. You might notice traces of blood on a dog’s toys after it has been chewing them.
If you notice these symptoms then it’s probably time for a visit to the vet for a proper professional cleaning of any accumulated plaque and tartar. In fact, if you have a fear of dentists you may be a little jealous, for the process is usually done under general anaesthetic, with the pet blissfully unaware of the meddling in its mouth!