Dental Disease: The Silent Tormentor

February 19th 2018

Dental disease is the most common medical condition affecting our pets. Just as with people, a healthy mouth and teeth requires constant care such as brushing, dental cleaning and mouthwashes. As it is sometimes hard for ourselves to keep up with these daily tasks, it is even harder to apply them to our pets. Especially because our pets do not understand the why of it and - let’s face it - not every dog or cat is equally welcoming of a toothbrush and toothpaste in their mouth.

Even if we as humans do manage to keep up with the daily care of our mouth, a cleaning by a dental hygienist once or twice a year is still a must to prevent further decay, along with annual X-rays and exams by the dentist. The same applies to our pets, in which we also recommend regular dental cleanings and check-ups. How about coyotes and wolves - would they not have dental disease? I would assume yes, but to a lesser extend as their lifestyle, diet and life expectancy is quite different from our domesticated pets.

Top 4 dental problems in cats and dogs

1) Periodontal disease
Periodontal disease, loss of supporting bone and inflammation of the gums go hand in hand.

In the first picture of the two displayed below, you can see inflammation of the gums around the teeth after removal of the tartar or calculus. The root of the molar is exposed due to infection under the gum line and needs to be extracted.
2) Fractures 

Fractures can involve the enamel only or break through the enamel and can even crack into the root canal. In case of exposure of the root canal, the tooth will become infected and can eventually become abscessed.

In the bottom picture below, the molar is fractured and the instrument is inserted in the pulp cavity. The blood vessel and nerve are exposed. Needless to say, this would be painful for this particular dog if he wasn't sedated.

3) Build up of tartar

The pictures at the bottom of this blog were taken before and after the cleaning of the teeth. Tartar contains a large amount of bacteria and will result in infection underneath the gum line if cleaning would not be performed. This particular dog still had healthy teeth underneath and cleaning prevented the extractions that would have been necessary as infection settled in. 

4) Feline resorptive lesions

In cats, specifically, enzymatic resorption of teeth is seen frequently. It is a very painful condition for the cat.

Additionally, occurrence of this dental issue cannot be prevented by regular brushing or good maintenance of the mouth.

Consequently, this is a frustrating situation for the cat, the veterinarian and the owner! Extraction or crown amputation is the only solution to remove the source of pain for these cats.

Prevention of dental disease

It is clear that all these conditions are painful for our dogs and cats. Nonetheless, in all of the above cases the pets were still eating. They seem to manage to chew on the less painful teeth, or not chew at all, to compensate. 

The best way to prevent dental disease is by brushing teeth regularly, provide dental chews and have chewing toys and maybe even bones (only for non-aggressive chewers!). If brushing is difficult, you can put some toothpaste on his/her favourite chew toy and let them do the hard work! Alternatively, mouthwash for pets can be added to their drinking water. Dental chews are known to mechanically remove tartar as well as prescription dental diets.

Treating dental disease

It has to be mentioned that dental work is expensive. This is because the surgery takes a long time and a large volume of anesthetic drugs are used.

Additionally, extracting teeth is meticulous work and the mouth has many nerves and blood vessels to be aware of while doing surgery. This results in prolonged surgery time.

Also, even though only one dog or cat is being treated, in the mouth each tooth has to be assessed individually, which means there are 42 little patients in a dog’s mouth and 30 in a cat’s mouth. This is a significant number of teeth to be assessed.

Dental disease in its many forms is still the most common illness to affect our pets! There is a lot we can do for prevention, but ultimately a cleaning under anesthesia and maybe even extractions may be necessary.

If you have any questions about your pet's teeth or dental care or if you'd like to know more about our dental prices please contact us at (403) 615-8016. 

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