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by Dr Kevin Cruickshank
Have you ever wished that Molly doesn’t have such bad “doggy breath”? Well maybe it isn’t just “doggy breath” and it can be improved. Bad breath is one of the first signs of dental disease in pets. Dental disease is probably the most common problem I see in practice, with over 80% of patients being affected.

Not only does it cause unpleasant breath, but dental disease can cause many other health problems. We all know how painful toothache can be, and very commonly plaque leads to tartar, which leads to gingivitis and root infections, both very painful conditions. And ultimately, left untreated this leads to the loss of teeth. But a more hidden, and serious problem is that dental disease can be a route for infection to get into the body. The most frequent places that bacterial infection spreads to are the kidneys and heart. But we also frequently see oral infections spreading down the throat to cause chronic bronchitis, or spreading into the nose from infected tooth roots.

Bad breath, messy eating, red gums, or a reluctance to eat hard foods are all indicators of dental disease. Your vet should always check your pet’s teeth at their annual health check and vaccination visit, but if you have any concerns get them checked sooner. You may even want to take advantage of Dental Month in August, when many vet clinics offer free dental checks. The earlier dental disease is detected the easier (and cheaper!) it is to correct.

While brushing their teeth, preferable daily is the golden standard, it’s not always practical. If you have a puppy, get them used to you fiddling in their mouth and brushing their teeth from an early age. Diet has a huge influence on oral health. Dry biscuit diets are better as they are far more abrasive on teeth, cleaning as they chew, whereas wet foods encourage plaque buildup. Additionally many premium dry foods incorporate technology such as an enzyme coating on the kibbles to further enhance their dental benefits. There are also special prescription dental diets available, which research has shown are as good as brushing!

Other chews are very beneficial too for cleaning the teeth as well as keeping the gums healthy. Bones are excellent but should be large marrow bones without pieces that can be broken off. Chicken necks or wings are very popular, but there is a risk of sharp pieces or salmonella poisoning if the chicken is a bit old. In my opinion there are better alternatives. Rawhide bones are very safe and effective, as are treats such as Greenies, Dentabones and even smoked pigs ears! But if your pet has tartar and resulting gingivitis, then only a dental descale and polish will restore their teeth to a healthy state. This is done under a general anaesthetic, and at the same time all teeth are checked, and if necessary problem teeth extracted if the damage cannot be repaired.

If you’re able to brush your dog’s teeth (cats seldom tolerate it) then definitely use flavoured pet toothpaste (chicken, beef, malt etc). Thimblelike finger brushes are available for small mouths, while a regular adult’s toothbrush is fine for larger breeds.

Also popular now is a mouth rinse for pets. Available from vets, it’s a liquid that is simply added to their daily drinking water and helps to reduce bacteria in the mouth. Remember pets cannot express their pain in the same manner as us, and often they actually hide pain because as a wild animal it indicates weakness to predators. Therefore dental disease can easily go unnoticed. You wouldn’t expect to go a lifetime without dental care and nor should our pets!

Posted in lifestyle |
Posted by Dr Kevin Cruickshank
15 Aug 2008

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