How to know if your dog or cat needs a dental

Imagine not brushing your teeth for a year, or five years … and think how bad your mouth will smell and feel. Your pet’s mouth is exactly the same. We (hopefully) brush our teeth twice a day and should still go to the dentist for a scale and polish once or twice a year to prevent tooth decay. It is worse for our pets, because they don’t brush their teeth.

First prize is to start brushing your pet’s teeth when he is a young puppy (or kitten). This is only effective if you do it daily; it won’t help to do it once a month! You need to use a toothbrush made specifically for pets, or a pet finger toothbrush, and animal (not human) toothpaste.

From the age of about two years all pets will start to build up tartar on their teeth, which can result in plaque and gingivitis. As they get older it can progress to rotten teeth and tooth root abscesses, which are incredibly painful for your pet. They are usually very brave and don’t show dental pain the way we would expect them to, so pet owners often don’t notice the condition until it is very advanced, and by this time the animal has suffered unnecessarily.

Imagine the chronic, aching pain of a rotten tooth in your mouth daily for months and not being able to do anything about it! You should lift your pets’ lips up once a week and check their teeth. Make sure to look on both sides and right to the back. Often the back molars are the worst. Many vets will also offer a free dental check-up, so consult your vet to see if they offer this and if they recommend that it’s time for a dental scale and polish. I have never had a cat or dog sit in the chair and open wide and say “aaaah” willingly for me – so a proper dental scale and polish requires your vet to give a full anaesthetic to be able to clean your pet’s teeth properly. It should also be done with a proper dental machine and ultrasonic scaler and polisher and not by hand, so enquire beforehand if your vet offers this.

If the teeth are not polished correctly after a scaling procedure, they will build up tartar much faster the next time round. If left to advanced stages of tooth decay, your vet will also have to extract many of the rotten teeth. Your pet will do much better without these teeth in his mouth and will be quite fine without them, so don’t worry! It’s far better for him to not be in pain than to not remove a rotten tooth and continue to suffer in silence.

Dr Le-Anne Kleynhans, veterinarian