By the time your pet is two years of age he will probably have some degree of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). With increasing age, many animals will go on to develop periodontitis, which is inflammation of the structures supporting the teeth. Periodontitis will produce clinical symptoms of oral pain, smelly breath, difficulty eating, salivation, weight loss or even facial swelling.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth that takes hold in progressive stages.
How it starts and progresses
Periodontal disease starts out as a bacterial film called plaque. The bacteria attach to the teeth. When the bacteria die they can be calcified by calcium in saliva. This forms a hard, rough substance called tartar or calculus. If left to accumulate, plaque can lead to gingivitis. Professional cleaning will be needed to help manage it.
The final stages of periodontal disease is very painful for your pet, but these problems can be averted before they start with proper dental care.
How can I tell if my pet has dental problems?
Bad breath is often a first indicator of dental disease. Gently lift the lips and check for tartar, inflamed gums or broken teeth. Cats may exhibit increased drooling. Both cats and dogs can exhibit reluctance to eat or play with toys, ‘chattering’ of the teeth when trying to eat, lethargy, bleeding gums, eroded teeth, and failing to groom (cats).
If you don’t see a problem but smell bad odour, have your veterinarian diagnose the source of the smell. Pets can live more comfortable lives if oral healthcare is managed and maintained.
Veterinarians can perform a basic oral examination while pets are awake. However, a short anaesthetic is required for a more complete examination.
How to prevent periodontal disease
The best way to prevent periodontal disease is to start at home. This includes:
· Brushing – start getting your puppy or kitten used to the routine at an early age. Use a brush or gauze wrapped around your finger and brush with gentle circular movements. Pet toothpaste or an oral paste containing antibacterial chlorhexidine should be used.
· Dental diet is the next step. There are excellent dental diets available to help retard (but not stop) the accumulation of plaque. Ask your veterinary team about these diets.
· Treats with dental benefits or chew toys that help massage your pet’s gums may aid in removing some plaque.
Brushing your pet’s teeth daily or at least three times a week – no less – remains the most effective way of preventing plaque build-up.
Text: Dr Roger Palmer, veterinarian