It’s not normal to have foul breath – ask your partner. Common misconceptions with dental disease are “but she is still eating!”, “bad-breath is normal”, “more bones will sort the problem out”! Our fur-babies are very similar to us humans in many regards and veterinary medicine is catching up with our human counterparts. Tooth brushing and antibiotics have saved millions of lives in preventing and treating life-threatening dental disease in humans. Many people look at me like I’ve gone crazy when I ask if they brush their pets’ teeth, but it really is the best way to remove plaque safely. Plaque is the furry stuff of bacteria and food particles that builds up on teeth and in gum pockets, and causes periodontal disease. Calculus is the hard, brown deposit that cannot be brushed off and can form a thick layer over teeth.

There are many other (easier!) ways to prevent plaque accumulation that involves chewing and or chemicals – specially formulated dental foods, raw hides, pigs ears, Oravet chews, Greenies, Healthy Mouth water additive and chlorhexidine mouth rinses for example. Bone-chewing is contentious as these can break teeth, bones get stuck and sometimes cause gastric upset. But if you offer raw bones like lamb necks (that are relatively soft) the risk is reduced. Consider the care we need to extend to our own teeth. Despite daily brushing and flossing, I still go to the hygienist annually with my pearly whites to have them cleaned professionally. I go to the dentist as often to have all the damage of childhood cordial and improper cleaning inspected. I complain about the sensitive spots. I still eat and get on with life. Our pets are similar but we rarely appreciate their dental problems as they don’t tell us. That is why it is so important to have an annual dental check up.

Dogs have 42 teeth and some are hard to visualize even when they are anaesthetized as they are hidden right in the back of the mouth behind the lips. Cats have their own special problems of tooth resorption of unknown cause. This is a very painful process that starts in the roots and moves into the crown of the tooth where it becomes clinically obvious. They can have normal looking teeth but awful disease just out of sight under the gum.

Dental x-rays have enabled us to do a much better job at detecting disease in our pets so they don’t have to live for years with pain and infection before the tooth becomes wobbly and is finally extracted or falls out.

Imagine this conversation:

Dentist: “You have mild gingivitis and calculus on half the tooth surfaces. Let’s wait until your gums become really inflamed, eating is painful and then we will look at doing something.” NO you say. You want it fixed now. Let your pet get the dental care they need. August is National Pet Dental Month.

– Fiona Cameron