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Dental disease is unfortunately a common problem in domestic pets, with different presentations in different species


In DOGS, the most common problem is tartar build up on the teeth. Deposits of tartar have the effect of inflaming the gums around the affected teeth, which can result in the teeth becoming loosened, despite being healthy, and food getting into the space, causing pain and infection. (and smelly breath!)  In some cases, abscesses can form, especially around the upper cheek teeth. Eventually teeth can be lost, or require extraction. In an ideal world, dogs would have their teeth brushed daily, and indeed some owners do manage this, but not all dogs are suitably tolerant, and so sometimes it becomes necessary to have your pet in to have the tartar cleaned off before it becomes a bigger problem. To do this we need to give your pet an anaesthetic, as unfortunately they are not keen to sit still for the treatment, and it means we can have better access to all areas of the teeth. We use an ultrasonic scaling machine, much like the one your own dentist uses, which uses a fine spray of water under pressure to blast all the hard calculus form the tooth surface. Once the teeth are clean, we polish them with a special motorised polisher, to ensure that the surfaces are smooth- this can slow the build-up of tartar in future, although unfortunately  will not prevent it altogether. If some teeth require removal, we will usually do that as well. Your pet will be given antibiotics and pain relief at the time of the dental procedure, and may be given follow-up antibiotics for you to give at home, especially if they have had many extractions. We usually ask you to bring your dog back for a free check-up one week later, so we can check the teeth, gums and any wounds where teeth have been removed.


Prevention of dental disease in dogs usually involves brushing, if possible, or chewing. Giving bones as a method of keeping teeth clean can be controversial, as cooked bones can splinter and cause digestive problems for dogs, while uncooked bones, though better, can be a source of food poisoning, due to the possibility of resident bacteria. Many treats are on the market now to promote dental health, and these may be of some benefit, but watch out for the extra calories!!


CATS can suffer from tartar build up, similar to dogs. Some cats seem very prone to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and this can be a result of tartar or, in some cases, viral infections, unique to cats. Our feline friends seem to be more sensitive to sore gums, and sometimes stop eating, or can be seen to paw at their mouth and shake their head. Again, they often have smelly breath. Cats also develop weaknesses at the base of some teeth, which can require removal of the tooth. As with dogs, we sometimes need to anaesthetise  your cat and use our ultrasonic scaler to clean off all the tartar, and we then polish the teeth to try to slow future build-up. Again, we may find there are some teeth that require extraction, and we would usually do this while your pet is already anaesthetised. All this will be discussed with you beforehand if you are leaving your pet with us for dental treatment. During the procedure, your pet will be given antibiotics and pain relief by injection, which we may want to continue afterwards, depending on the severity of dental disease present. You will be asked to bring your cat back the following week for a free check-up to look at the teeth and gums.


“But his/ her teeth aren’t bothering him!”

- It amazes me sometimes just how stoic our pets can be, and it can be very difficult to know how much a condition is “bothering” an animal. Over the years, I have seen many pets whose horrid teeth didn’t appear to be causing them any distress, but who, after having dental work done, were apparently “like a new dog/ cat!”  My feeling is that the horrid teeth were actually affecting the animal more than any of us (vet included!) realised, and having treatment brought relief, so your pet’s dental problems could be more uncomfortable for them than you think.


“I am worried about him/her having an anaesthetic!”

- This is a valid concern, especially as many pets with dental problems tend to be older, and may have other issues too. It’s really a case of weighing up the risk factors and the pros and cons. We often advise  pre-anaesthetic blood tests if your pet is middle aged or elderly, to try to identify any underlying issues that could complicate an anaesthetic before we go ahead. This can be done on the same day as the proposed dental work, so your pet doesn’t need to come in twice. We won’t pretend that any anaesthetic is risk-free, but more modern anaesthetic agents are safer and allow animals to recover more quickly, and the benefits to your pet from having the dental procedure can be very worthwhile.


“ How will he/ she eat if you take teeth out?!”

- The answer to this is that pets adapt amazingly well, and will eat more easily with NO teeth than they will      with painful or loose teeth! Even pets fed on dried food can usually manage it again within days of              multiple extractions. It reminds me of when I was a child- my grandpa had no teeth, and we used to watch in awe as he ate apples and pears with his gums!


RABBITS and RODENTS have their own, very different issues with their teeth. In these species the teeth grow throughout the animals life, as they are constantly worn down by chewing. However in some of these animals, the teeth don’t line up properly, either as a result of breeding or development, and the teeth can then overgrow. In the case of the cheek teeth, large sharp spikes or spurs can form, which dig into the gums and tongue and cause quite severe damage to the soft tissue if left unchecked. This can obviously be hugely painful and stressful for the pet, and usually results in anorexia. Sometimes it is the front teeth that overgrow, leading to problems actually getting food into the mouth.


With overgrown cheek teeth, we need to anaesthetise the animal (usually rabbits, although guinea pigs and chinchillas are also susceptible) and then use special cutting instruments and burrs to gently trim the offending teeth back and restore comfort. The animal is given pain relief and other supportive care, as rabbits and their ilk need extra care and monitoring before, during and after anaesthesia. In the case of overgrown front teeth (incisors), often the best solution is to actually remove the teeth right from their base, as they can be clipped but often re-grow quickly. Don’t worry-your rabbit or guinea pig will have no problems eating without these teeth!


Some experts think that diet is a major factor in rabbit and rodent dental disease. In these animals, it is vital to provide plenty roughage (eg hay, straw) to keep their teeth working and grinding. Rabbit and guinea pig mixes where the components are separate have been identified as problematic, as very often the animal eats the bits he or she likes and leaves the rest- often the parts with calcium! This results in dietary imbalance, and can lead to dental problems, so we would usually advise a pelleted diet and plenty hay or straw to try to minimise tooth problems.


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