Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats – Lift that Lip!!
Mrs Miggins (name has been changed to protect the innocent!!) is a loving pet owner. Her two cats, Salt and Pepper, and her dog Bruno (names have also been changed!) are regular visitors to the vets but do not need to come frequently. We see them for their annual health check and vaccination once a year. Although we had recommended that we see Bruno every six months due to his more advanced years, Mrs Miggins takes great care in looking after her three darlings.
Bringing all three of the little ones to the vets is quite a challenge, and with Bruno pulling on the lead to get into the practice and the cats always a little unsure about why they are being taken to the vets, it is always an eventful visit. One afternoon, Mrs Miggins had booked her three in for their annual check, and she had told our client care staff that she had a few questions to ask about a pretty awful smell coming from Bruno. When Mrs Miggins arrived, I went out to greet her, and the problem was evident for all to smell! A wall of bad breath came to meet me outside the consulting room. Sure enough, after conducting a complete physical exam and giving Bruno a clean bill of health, I checked his mouth to find the cause of the problem. All of the teeth were covered in calculus, not a large amount, but significant nonetheless and smelly. His gums were very inflamed and sore, and they had started to swell a little. I recommended that Bruno have a Professional Periodontal Treatment, which included a complete examination of his mouth, full scale and polish of his teeth, including under the gum line and surgical removal of any teeth which were too damaged and painful to ever make comfortable. In the end, this turned out to only be one tooth, which was too loose to save, and he must have felt a lot better without it. The treatment was done under anaesthetic as Bruno was very good but certainly would not have stayed still when we cleaned the sore bits of gum under the gumline. His gums looked much better when he came to see me for his checkup a few days after the procedure. Mrs Miggins told me that he seemed a bit perkier, although the slowing down had been so gradual that she thought it was just his old age and did not realise that his teeth and gums were hurting him.
This story is very typical of the pets that we see daily. Teeth can cause many problems, but we are talking about periodontitis. This is caused by plaque and tartar, which contain bacteria and build up on the teeth over time. The bacteria sit next to the gums, causing inflammation, and then they start to make their way down in the gap between the tooth and the jaw, destroying the bone and causing pain and infection and eventually a very loose tooth. The first thing many owners notice is the bad breath caused by the bacteria, but if you look carefully, you will often see yellow calculus (tartar), which builds up close to the gum line. Initially, it is impossible to see effects under the gum line. It is only visible (without professional equipment) when so much bone gets destroyed that the part of the tooth, usually covered by gum and bone, becomes visible (a severely affected tooth). At this stage, it is irreversible.
The great news is that in mild and moderately affected teeth, the process IS reversible, and the body will do the work for us as long as the teeth and gums are kept very clean. Therefore, any affected teeth must be cleaned professionally and scrupulously by tooth brushing at home. Professional periodontal cleaning and examinations must be done under anaesthetic to ensure that the pet is not in pain and that the area under the gum line is cleaned effectively. Home brushing should be done once per day – every day! To have the most effect.
But prevention is better than cure, so if we can get brushing the dog’s teeth of all of the puppies and kittens that we see, we should be able to avoid most periodontal diseases and leave our pets with much nicer smelling breath, much cleaner looking teeth and a mouth that is free from pain and infection.
I have included some pictures of a dog I treated recently. His gums were very sore before treatment, so much so that in one area of his gums, the gum had become so irritated that it had grown a little lump from it, which needed to be removed. After treatment, his gums are much less inflamed, and his owner told me that he appeared to be brighter and happier – a great success!
The article was written by Dr Oli MRCVS, the owner and vet at The Finchley Vet, 599 High Road, Finchley. 020 3603 4441. Please do not hesitate to ring us if you have any questions about this or anything else.