Felines are natural carnivores in the wild, chewing raw flesh off bones. This creates a natural cleaning process through physical abrasion and salivation. Commercial foods for pet cats reduce the need for gnawing, especially in the case of moist food which means that the natural abrasion and salivation effects are much diminished. The result, however, is that dental disease in cats is extremely common, the vast majority of pet cats requiring significant veterinary intervention at some stage in their lives.
Canines are naturally scavengers and so like cats naturally chew flesh from bones, creating a natural cleaning process through physical abrasion and salivation. Although dogs are often fed a less rich and courser diet, many still succumb to the same disease processes as cats.
Signs of Dental Disease
In many cases the first signs that are presented to a veterinarian are halitosis, or facial swelling, related to dental abscess. However, regular checks can reveal gingivitis, a simple reddening of the gums. In later stages of the disease a marked increase in halitosis is usually evident and increased drooling and tenderness when eating, maybe favoring one side of the mouth. As an abscess grows facial swelling and marked pain are more obvious. At this stage it is often too late to treat!
Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) is where the disease usually begins, especially affecting the gum margin where the gums and teeth meet. The gingivitis can be caused simply by sweet or rich food and insufficient salivation. Food left on the teeth leads to plaque, the soft deposit rich in bacteria that will stimulate further gingivitis as well as cavities and hard, calcified, brown, tartar similar to that which can affect people.
Eventually ‘periodontitis’ develops, a weakening of the attachments between the tooth and its socket accompanied by recession of the gums and eventually abscess and death of the tooth roots.
There is no need for the majority of pets to suffer.
Diet is the first key to prevention from the time of weaning, simply by avoiding rich, soft food. Specific diets have been formulated which encourage salivation by chewing and help to clean the inter-dental space (between the teeth) by the shape of their biscuits. Enzymes may also be incorporated into the food to assist with the action of natural saliva eg. ‘Hills t/d’, Royal Canin Waltham
Chews can be helpful in stimulating salivation and physically cleaning the teeth. Some of these are available with added salivary enzymes (‘CET’)to further assist with dental health, others are shaped and textured to be beneficial like Royal Canin’s Mini Oral bar (Denta Rask). However, care should be taken as some chews, like bones, can be swallowed to form potentially harmful foreign bodies.
Toothpastes and Brushing. Toothpastes have also been formulated containing enzymes to assist the action of saliva. Many clients are skeptical about brushing their pets’ teeth, but the pastes are formulated to taste good to dogs and cats and they do not require the fine abrasive action of brushing. Paste such as ‘Logic Oral Hygiene Gel’ and ‘CET pet toothpaste’ can be applied by finger to the gums and some cats enjoy the taste enough to lick it off themselves when applied to a paw.
In the early stages of disease changes in diet, the use of chews, toothpaste and brushing can reverse the disease.
In more severe cases dental work under anaesthesia is required. The following procedures are then possible:-
Scaling and polishing is commonly practiced by veterinary surgeries to remove tartar using ultrasonic descalers and polishing machines similar to those employed by human dentists.
Fillings and restoration work are carried out by a limited number of (mostly) specialist veterinary surgeons.
Extractions are normally performed when cavities have developed or tooth roots become exposed or abscessed. Many veterinary surgeons take the motto “if in doubt pull it out.” This may appear drastic but is usually justified by concern over repeating anaesthetics too frequently.
RABBITS are natural herbivores and have a very different type of dentition to dogs or cats. Their teeth consist of incisors at the front, and cheek teeth, all of which continue to grow throughout life. Their teeth are constantly wearing down by abrasion of the upper and lower teeth against each other whilst chewing.
Problems frequently originate from malocclusion, a condition where the teeth do not occlude, top against bottom, in a normal, even fashion. Malocclusion can be genetic, often affecting the cheek teeth first, or be caused by injury and infection.
Signs of disease are often drooling and increased salivation, but may also be diarrhoea or simply a loss of weight. Problems may be obvious when incisor teeth are overgrown, but this is not the case for cheek teeth.
The effect of malocclusion is ineffective grinding down resulting in overlong teeth, often with sharp points and often pointing in the wrong direction (either into the tongue, lips, or gums). In the early stage of disease the teeth can be cut, ground or filed down to form the correct pattern of occlusion. However, as the disease progresses this can become ineffective and teeth may need to be removed. Removal can result in difficulties digesting food. Early treatment of the problems is therefore always recommended.
This is generally by ensuring a suitable diet such as Burgess Supa Excel, allowing plenty of fresh food and fibre. However, when a genetic or inherent growth problem is present usually only regular trimming of the teeth is effective.
Veterinary surgeons will trim the front teeth using various techniques. The cheek teeth can be filed, ground or cut to improve occlusion. All of these procedures are performed under general anaesthetic.