Dental disease is one of the most commonly found problems in a consultation by vets, and is also one of the problems most commonly overlooked by owners.
1. Plaque. The process, as with humans, starts with a build up of plaque on the teeth. The plaque is a biofilm of living bacteria and their waste products. If this plaque is regularly removed by brushing, eating dry food, chewing bones or dental chew sticks, it can take many years to progress any further.
2. Tartar. If allowed to build up, plaque begins to mineralise and forms the hard, rock like formation on the surface of the tooth known as ‘tartar’, ‘scale’ or ‘calculus’. Brushing will not remove tartar, and bones/dental sticks/dental food will remove some but not all, especially below the gumline. Tartar is a rough, porous material that allows bacteria at the tooth surface and gumline to thrive; it also allows better adhesion of the sticky plaque biofilm than the smooth enamel surface of a clean tooth. The rough tartar can also cause ulceration and lacerations to the inside of the cheek surface.
A scale and polish removes all of the tartar build up from teeth, and smooths the surface to help prevent rapid plaque build up.
3. Gingivitis. This is irritation and inflammation of the gum, which is caused by the presence of plaque and tartar. Sometimes the gums may bleed. Stages I and II dental disease encompass mild to moderate gingivitis with no periodontal disease.
Gingivitis is reversible, but it causes pain and is the beginning of more serious stages of dental disease. A scale and polish to remove the tartar build up reverses the dental disease and allows the inflammation of the gums to resolve, giving you another chance to maintain a disease-free mouth.
4. Periodontal disease. Gingivitis leads to gum recession, bone resorption and breakdown of the periodontal ligament, which holds the tooth in the bony socket. Periodontal disease is painful and irreversible, and depending on the severity, extraction of affected teeth may be required. If the tartar covering the gum margin is moderate to severe, sometimes it is not possible to distinguish between stage II (gingivitis) and stage III (periodontal disease). This means that your vet will not be able to assess the stage of dental disease until the tartar is removed under anaesthetic, which makes an accurate estimate of costs before the procedure difficult.
5. Fractures. Fractured teeth are not uncommon in dogs and cats. Cats most often present with a fractured canine. Dogs present often with multiple chip fractures on all teeth from chewing stones, worn teeth from chewing tennis balls (which are very abrasive!!) and slab fractures of the carnassial teeth – these are the large flat teeth with three peaks in the side of the dog’s mouth, and the fracture is often a piece still attached at the gumline on the outer surface of the tooth. Canine fractures are also not uncommon in dogs. Your vet can assess the severity of the fracture, whether or not it is likely to be causing pain and whether or not it requires removal.
6. Resorptive lesions. Cats are prone to another type of dental disease where the enamel dissolves in a spot on the tooth, exposing the pulp cavity. These are very painful and require removal of the affected tooth. They can occur on teeth with or without tartar, and on the inside or outside surface of the teeth, so often are not found until a dental procedure is performed.
Booking a dental
Simple dental procedures on healthy animals can be performed at both clinics, but complex procedures, old, or sick animals are preferably booked at Rose Avenue Veterinary Hospital – if you are a client of Toormina Road Veterinary Clinic your veterinarian will be able to advise you if this is the case.
As some extractions are not identified until the scale and polish has been performed, the anaesthetic is assumed to be medium to long in most cases. For this reason you will be offered a pre-anaesthetic blood test to assess your pet’s organ function and identify any possible problems before the anaesthetic. Intravenous fluid therapy is recommended for nearly all dental procedures to protect the organs and assist in the clearance of anaesthetic drugs. Your veterinarian may also recommend antibiotic or pain medication before or after the dental treatment, depending on the severity of dental disease.
Because it can be difficult to stage dental disease under a layer of tartar, or to check the inside surface of a tooth carefully in an awake pet, it is difficult to estimate whether and how many teeth will need to be removed until the anaesthetic and scale of the teeth. Please advise the vet or nurse when admitting your pet for a dental procedure whether we are able to remove any teeth necessary, or whether you will require a telephone call to advise during the procedure. Please make sure that if you request a telephone call you are available to answer your phone as without your permission we are not able to remove the teeth and a further anaesthetic may be necessary at further cost to you.
Because all dental procedures are performed under a general anaesthetic, your pet may not be interested in food on the day of surgery. If your pet is interested in food, we recommend that you only feed up to half a standard sized meal, as the drugs used can make them nauseous and may lead to vomiting if fed too much. You can offer a normal amount of food the day after the procedure.
If your pet has had extractions, your pet will need to be fed small chunks of meat for 5 days after the procedure to prevent food either sticking to sutures, damaging the sore gums or getting stuck in the tooth sockets.
Your pet will have been given pain relief before, during and after the procedure. However, if you feel that your pet is suffering from discomfort please let us know so that we can provide you with a longer course of pain relief medication.