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Middlehope Veterinary Hospital
Middlehope Veterinary Hospital

Dental Care: Looking after your pet’s teeth

Dental Care: Looking after your pet's teeth

We all know how important it is to take care of our own teeth, but what about our pets? Home care, as well as veterinary care, is necessary to keep your pets happy and healthy.

What is plaque, calculus, and dental disease? 
‘Dental disease’ is a catch-all term for several things that could be happening in your pet’s mouth. Most of these happen slowly, over time, starting with a build-up of plaque.
Plaque is a sticky coating on the teeth, containing a mixture of bacteria, substances in your pet’s saliva and food material. After a couple of days, plaque hardens into ‘tartar’ or ‘calculus’, which is a hard brown/yellow substance, containing high levels of bacteria now protected between a hard ‘shell’.

Excessive calculus and plaque can lead to gum inflammation (‘gingivitis’) — sore, red gums, especially in the area surrounding the teeth. And, over time, this inflammation and the bacteria attack the periodontal ligaments that hold the teeth in the bone of the jaw. This causes the teeth to loosen, now called ‘periodontitis’. This can all result in tooth loss.

Bacteria from the tartar can also enter your pet’s bloodstream via the inflamed gums, leading to infections and diseases elsewhere in the body, such as the heart and kidneys. Your pet may also suffer from bad breath and painful teeth.

How can I prevent dental disease in my dog?
Once periodontitis has set in, the affected teeth cannot be saved. The best option for your dog is to design a home care and vet-care regime that protects the teeth and prevents problems from developing. This is based on two main concepts: removing plaque before it can harden into tartar, and regularly removing tartar and cleaning below the gum line to reduce gingivitis.

Dental Cleaning

How often should my dog or cat have a dental cleaning?
Many animals require veterinary dental cleaning to remove tartar, clean under the gums, and get their mouth back into tip-top shape. How often they need this done is very animal dependent, for some it may be as frequent as every 6 months, whilst for others it may be every two or three years. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on your pet’s individual requirements so don’t hesitate to bring them in for an examination if you aren’t sure.

What does dental cleaning involve?
‘Dental cleaning’ is a bit of a misnomer. When your vet does a proper dental clean at a veterinary hospital, they do far more than just clean the teeth. They will be very thorough and will remove plaque and tartar from below the gum line as well as clean the visible tooth surface.

Your pet’s teeth will be checked at the same time, and any bad teeth can be examined in detail and extracted if required. Sometimes radiographs (X-rays) are taken to see what is going on with the teeth, and their roots beneath the gums, which can help when deciding if dental extractions are required.

Cat and dog dental charts are often used during the procedure so that the veterinarian can make a record of any missing teeth, any extractions that take place, and any teeth that may need monitoring in the future.

To do all this, your dog or cat will need to be anesthetized so that the veterinarian can assess their mouth safely and do a thorough inspection. So-called ‘anesthesia-free dentals’ or ‘non-anesthesia dentals’ do not fully assess your pet and are merely a low-cost cosmetic procedure, usually carried out by a layperson.

How long does dental cleaning take?
Again, this is very dependent on each individual animal and the level of dental disease and tartar present. In very mild cases, this procedure may take 20 minutes once the animal is safely under the anesthetic. In more severe cases that require extensive cleaning and major extractions, a dental procedure could take as much as 90 minutes or more.

The anesthetics that are used in modern-day veterinary practices are very safe, and whilst complications can be experienced these are extremely rare. Many owners worry, particularly when elderly animals require general anesthetics. The use of pre-anesthetic blood tests and intravenous fluids in these patients helps to ensure that risks are kept low.

The cost will vary depending on what treatment your pet requires. In general, a simple scale and polish will be low-cost compared to a procedure that requires multiple extractions, so this is another incentive for acting early when it comes to oral care.

How long does dental cleaning take?
Again, this is very dependent on each individual animal and the level of dental disease and tartar present. In very mild cases, this procedure may take 20 minutes once the animal is safely under the anesthetic. In more severe cases that require extensive cleaning and major extractions, a dental procedure could take as much as 90 minutes or more.

The anesthetics that are used in modern-day veterinary practices are very safe, and whilst complications can be experienced these are extremely rare. Many owners worry, particularly when elderly animals require general anesthetics. The use of pre-anesthetic blood tests and intravenous fluids in these patients helps to ensure that risks are kept low.

The cost will vary depending on what treatment your pet requires. In general, a simple scale and polish will be low-cost compared to a procedure that requires multiple extractions, so this is another incentive for acting early when it comes to oral care.

What should I expect after a dental cleaning?
During their procedure, your pet’s teeth will be scaled and polished, leaving them sparkly clean ready for you to manage with an oral care regime at home. If your pet has had dental extractions, then you may have to wait until their gums have healed before implementing teeth brushing.

Following an anesthetic, your pet may be a little bit quieter than normal for 24 hours or so, but in most cases, they recover very quickly from a routine dental clean.

If your cat or dog has had extractions, then they may be sent home with pain relief medication to keep them comfortable. Occasionally you may notice a little blood-tinged saliva in the first few days post-surgery which is completely normal. Many animals will require soft food whilst their gums are healing too.

Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on any specific after-care for your pet when you collect them.

Ways of looking after your pet’s teeth at home 
The best way you can care for your pet’s teeth at home is by teeth brushing. If you have never tried this before you might well be wondering ‘how do I brush my cat or dog’s teeth?!’. The simple answer is to build up to it gradually!

Try this step-by-step guide to introducing teeth brushing –

  • Purchase pet-specific toothpaste (these are often meaty-flavored and low in fluoride, so your pet doesn’t have to spit afterward!) and a soft-bristled brush or finger brush.
  • Allow your pet to lick the paste from your fingers to begin with to get them used to the taste. You can try rubbing a bit just inside their mouth on their gums, too.
  • Let your pet sniff the dry toothbrush and rub their face against it if they like, many cats enjoy doing this!
  • Wet the toothbrush and apply a small amount of toothpaste. Allow your pet to lick this.
  • After several days of low-key interactions like this, try some brushing. Lift your cat or dog’s lip and gently insert the toothbrush or finger brush. Do a couple of small brushes and then leave it. Repeat the next day and the next. Give your pet lots of praise and treats!

Once they are comfortable with this gradually increase the length of time you spend brushing. Some animals seem to prefer if you start with the big teeth at the back first and work your way forwards to the more sensitive incisor teeth at the front, but do what works best for your pet.

If at any point your animal is uncomfortable or struggling, then you should stop —don’t risk being bitten. Maybe consider going back a few steps until he is comfortable again.

Once your pet is happy with brushing you should try to do this daily to keep bacteria and plaque levels low.

How else can I look after my pet’s teeth at home?
Other products such as tartar control diets, cat dental treats, dog dental chews, and toys can help prevent dental disease in pets to a certain degree. However, they are best used in conjunction with regular teeth brushing and dental cleaning with your veterinarian if required. Make sure that any diets, dental treats, dental chews, and water additives have the VOHC seal of acceptance to ensure they have scientific evidence of their efficacy.

Conclusion
Dogs’ and cats’ teeth need regular care, just as ours do. Teeth brushing at home forms an important part of this, along with regular dental check-ups from your veterinarian. If your pet requires a dental clean, rest assured that your veterinarian will do a thorough examination and treat any problem teeth at the same time as his scale and polish. If you think your pet has bad breath, oral pain or a build-up of tartar make sure you get him booked in sooner rather than later!

To schedule an appointment, give us a call at 845-562-7861 or complete our online request form. We will follow up with you shortly to confirm. We look forward to meeting you!

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