In our pets, dirty teeth and gums can lead to periodontal disease. This is a disease of the supporting structures of the tooth, gingiva (gum), periodontal ligaments (the ligaments holding the teeth in place) and alveolar bone (in which the teeth sit). Periodontal disease is irreversible and results in the extraction of affected teeth.
So how do our pets’ teeth get to this stage and what can we do to prevent it?
A new layer of plaque accumulates on teeth every 12 to 24 hours. Due to its biofilm mechanics, plaque can only be removed mechanically. If this plaque is not removed, it becomes mineralised to form calculus. The surface of calculus if very rough, which in turn facilitates further plaque build-up.
This layer of plaque is not just present on the visible surfaces of the teeth, but develops in the gingival sulcus (i.e. just under the gum line). The plaque is filled with billions of bacteria. Subsequently our pets get red, swollen gums, which is the inflammation brought about by the presence of the bacterial plaque. This is called gingivitis and it is reversible with a dental scale and polish procedure. Once gingivitis is present, we know that subgingival plaque exists and that the only way to remove this is with subgingival debridement (i.e. manually removing the plaque from under the gum line). This cannot be performed on a cat or a dog without a general anaesthesia as the sharp instruments that are used are a danger to a wriggly animal who would not understand what is being done to him or her.
If a dental scale and polish is not performed at this stage, then the reversible gingivitis progresses to irreversible periodontal disease, where the subginigival inflammation from the plaque and bacteria leads to loss of gingival attachment and ligamentous support for the tooth. Eventually this will lead to bone destruction. Once the teeth have reached this stage, they usually require extraction.
Chronic periodontal disease is not just a problem for the oral cavity. With so much bacteria present under the gum, the cat or dog will experience intermittent bacteraemia (i.e. bacteria in the blood stream) which can affect the heart and the kidneys, which are the body’s two main blood-receiving organs.
If a cat or dog already has good teeth or the teeth have just been cleaned in a dental procedure, then a prevention protocol can be put in place. It involves the following:
Daily brushing is ideal. Plaque forms within 12 to 24 hours, so if you brush your cat or dog’s teeth once a day, then you will be giving them a good chance of avoiding the development of plaque. Finger brushes or a coarse face washer or gauze over the finger are best. A special pet toothpaste is required as human toothpaste contains fluoride, which should not be swallowed. Please never use human toothpaste on animals.
PREMIUM QUALITY DENTAL FOOD
Royal Canin Dental or Hill’s Prescription Diet T/D
Presciption dental foods are dry biscuits where the kibble is prepared in large pieces with a fibre matrix that resists crumbling. This way the kibble works its way over the tooth before it breaks up and therefore cleans the surface of the tooth. For most cats and dogs, Hill’s Prescription Diet T/D or Royal Canin Dental can be fed as a sole maintenance food (there are exceptions for patients that are on other prescription diets for specific conditions).
For cats and dogs that definitely will not allow brushing, their teeth can be rinsed twice a week with Hexarinse, which is a 0.2% chlorhexidine solution. This helps reduce the bacterial load on the teeth.
We do not recommend bones as a component in homecare oral health. They do not work as well as brushing and dental food, and in many cases make teeth worse. We see many fractures and worn teeth from bone chewers and therefore we end up performing dental procedure because of bones. As well as this, we also see flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea, and occasional obstruction when animals are given bones. They are not worth it. We recommend the use of chew treats such a Prozym Dental Chews for dogs and Greenies for cats.