Dental Disease

Gum disease (periodontal disease) is the most common disease in humans, cats and dogs! It is estimated that about 75% of cats and dogs, will have some form of the disease by the time they reach 3-4 years of age. However, dogs and cats will rarely let you know there is a problem.

GINGIVITIS (GUM INFLAMMATION) is the first stage in the disease process. It is caused by plaque accumulation on the tooth surface. Plaque is a sticky accumulation of bacteria. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gum which is seen as a red line along the gum just by the tooth. This is potentially reversible at this stage by implementing an effective oral hygiene programme at home. There are many different options, and we can guide you towards the individual most effective option that is suitable for you and your pet. Most pets with gingivitis will give you no indication that there is disease there, except for…. BAD BREATH! Also known as halitosis, bad breath is a warning sign for gum disease. It is not normal for dogs and cats to have smelly breath! If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to…

PERIODONTITIS. This stage of the disease is now irreversible. The inflammation has now progressed and becomes more aggressive, destroying the attachment of the tooth, ie the gums may start to receed, the bony socket may start to disappear which makes the tooth become mobile, teeth may eventually fall out. The bacterial infection has become more aggressive, and the bacteria can hide in pockets underneath the gum. This represents a massive infection that the body is continuously trying to fight. These bacteria will enter the bloodstream every time the animal chews, eats and swallows. Most animals can cope with this and destroy the bacteria, but this becomes more difficult the older the patient becomes. Potentially the bacteria can cause infections inside the body, for instance in kidneys, liver and the heart. In many cases it may still be difficult for you to know there is a problem, because your pet may still seem fine. Certainly dogs and cats will still appear to eat happily. This does not mean they are not experiencing pain, rather their instincts for survival mean they must not show any signs of pain. Older animals may seem to be ‘slowing up’ and it is natural to assume this is a normal part of ageing, but we know chronic dental infections like gum disease can make animals more lethargic. Often people will remark once their pet is treated at how much more lively they are.

What can be done about this?

Your vet will always perform a thorough oral examination during every visit. He or she may be able to spot some of the tell-tale signs of dental disease. In the early stages, discussing an oral care programme at home may be all that is needed. In other cases your vet may recommend treatment under a general anaesthetic.

Why does my pet need an anaesthetic for dental treatment?

When we examine your pet in the consultation room, we may be able to see some warning signs of dental disease. However, we can only see the tip of the iceberg- we cannot properly assess the health of the tooth roots, or the supporting jaw bone properly in a conscious patient. We also will not be able to see any deep pockets under the gum. Therefore, to perform a thorough oral examination, your pet must remain still for us to assess every surface of every tooth. More importantly, we need to ensure that your pet cannot feel anything during the procedure. Our priority is to make dental treatment for your pet as pain-free as possible.

Will anything else be done under the anaesthetic?

Depending on the vet’s findings having performed a full examination once your pet is anaesthetised, we may need to carry out further tests or treatments. For example:

  • Dental charting. We fully examine your pet’s teeth, and oral health and produce an in depth chart recording our findings.
  • Dental Xrays. These allow us to fully assess the health of a tooth, and check the root, and bone supporting it.
  • Biopsies. Sometimes unsual lumps and bumps in the mouth may need small samples taken for further analysis.
  • Dental extractions. Sometimes teeth are too badly diseased and painful to be saved. We would then recommend extraction depending on our findings. Again our goal is to provide this in as pain-free a way as possible. We can discuss this with you more fully if this applies to your pet. Remember though, sometimes we will not know a tooth needs to be extracted until your pet is examined under an anaesthetic.
  • Scaling of teeth. This uses an ultrasonic scaler to mechanically remove plaque and tartar from your pets’ teeth.
  • Cleaning underneath the gum-line. It is important to remove all plaque bacteria and tartar from the surface of the tooth, and this includes pockets underneath the gum.
  • Polishing. This provides a smooth surface to the tooth to prevent further plaque re-accumulation. It also helps to remove any remaining plaque bacteria.

When you collect your pet after the treatment, we will fully explain the dental conditions found, and the treatments performed. We will also help you devise a suitable oral care programme to continue with at home. Remember, plaque bacteria will re-attach to the tooth within 24hours! The dental cleaning that we perform will only last a short while, it is the home care that will then help to keep the teeth and mouth healthy.

Rachel Perry MRCVS

Whilst all of our vets are able to perform dental treatment on your pet, Rachel has a long-standing professional interest in veterinary dentistry and oral surgery and has undertaken many post-graduate studies in the field. If you would like an appointment with Rachel, please call the surgery. She can discuss your pet’s dental health, and help you decide upon the best treatment plan. Rachel also carries out advanced veterinary dental procedures, such as root canals for broken teeth, advanced treatments for gum disease to save rather than extract some teeth, treatments for teeth in the wrong place, lumps and bumps, broken jaws… Rachel is always excited to talk about teeth!

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