Dental disease is the most common problem found among dogs and cats, with more than 70% of animals over 4 years old affected. This may be with mild gum disease or with more severe decay and gum recession, which may require lots of teeth to be removed.
Dental disease may present as bad breath, salivation, facial swellings (due to tooth abscesses) or reluctance to eat.
Accumulation of tartar at the base of teeth (see picture at left) leads to gum inflammation and recession and can allow infection into the tooth roots causing pain. Sometimes this infection may spread in the blood to internal organs such as the heart or liver.
When tartar has built up on teeth it can only be removed by using dental instruments or an ultrasonic scaling machine. This is very similar to the machine used by human dentists to give you a ‘scale and polish’. Unfortunately most animals will not sit still for this procedure so a general anaesthetic is the safest and most effective way for dental work to be carried out on your pet. We scale the tartar off the teeth and then polish them to help prevent the build up of tartar in the future.
So how can you prevent your pet from developing dental disease? Tooth brushing is the most effective way to prevent tartar from building up on the teeth (It's why we brush our teeth!). It won’t remove existing tartar, but will help prevent tartar from forming on the teeth. It is much easier to get your pet used to tooth brushing from a young age, although older pets can learn too! Dried diets and dental chews can also help prevent the build up of tartar on teeth but they are less effective than brushing.
Rabbits, Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs
Dental disease is very common in rabbits, with certain breeds more prone than others. Diet plays a very big role in this problem with a poor diet often leading to poor teeth. This leads to ‘malalignment’ when the upper and lower teeth do not meet correctly. Rabbit’s teeth continue to erupt and grow throughout their lives, so if the teeth do not line up against each other and wear down, then teeth can become overgrown (see picture Left). The front teeth (incisors) may even grow into the roof of the mouth, causing severe pain and infection. It is important to check your rabbit’s front teeth to make sure they are not growing too long. In most cases we can burr the incisor teeth short without sedation. Signs of dental disease include saliva dribbling down the chin, inappetance, facial swellings, eye problems, grinding the teeth and weight loss.
Malalignment can also cause problems with the back (or ‘cheek’) teeth. These are used for grinding food. If these are worn unevenly then spurs can form, with these digging into the side of the mouth or tongue which can cause ulcers and severe pain. These cheek teeth are difficult to see and your pet may have to be anaesthetised for these teeth to be rasped down. Similar problems can be seen in guinea pigs and chinchillas.