Cavities, or tooth decay, is less common in our pets than in ourselves but can occur in dogs, usually on the flat chewing surfaces of the very back teeth. Deep cavities may result in pain, halitosis, abscess formation and tooth fracture. Due to their location, it is often only possible for these lesions to be diagnosed with a detailed examination under general anaesthetic.
Chronic Gingivostomatitis is a longstanding inflammation extending beyond the gum margin to involve other tissues in the mouth, including the back of the mouth, tongue and lip folds. It is again seen more commonly in cats and is thought to be an overactive immune response to bacteria in the mouth. In some cats there may be viral involvement with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or flu viruses.
It causes salivation, halitosis, bleeding from the mouth and anorexia and can be extremely painful. Although, in some cases, anti-inflammatories may help manage the condition in the short term, often the best outcome for these cats involves extraction of all molar and premolar teeth. Although this may seem like a radical option, most cats recover well and become pain free with an improved quality of life.
Dental Exam and Treatment
In many cases it is not possible to accurately diagnose dental disease in dogs and cats without a full examination under general anaesthetic. If basic examination reveals signs of dental disease we will often recommend that this is carried out. Generally the benefits of such an examination and treatment will outweigh the risks of general anaesthesia - your pet will have a full health assessment and, if indicated, pre-operative blood screen to ensure that this is the case.
Following induction of anaesthesia your pet’s mouth will be fully examined - gums visually checked and probed for periodontal disease and X-rays taken (if indicated) to check for root disease. Tartar and plaque will be removed from the tooth surfaces using an ultrasonic descaler and the tooth surface polished. Extractions may be performed if advanced periodontal disease, loose or fractured teeth, resorptive lesions or decay are present. Follow-up examinations or treatment will then be recommended as appropriate.
Resorptive Lesions are defects in the tooth, usually starting at the root surface and becoming visible when the crown is affected. These occur commonly in cats and may be hidden by overgrowth of gum tissue or tartar deposits.
Diagnosis of the extent of the defect can only be performed accurately during a dental examination under general anaesthesia and may require X-rays to assess the most appropriate treatment. As the cause of these lesions is as yet unknown, specific prevention is not possible, but it is thought that good oral hygiene and regular dental attention may help. Currently extraction is the only available treatment for advanced resorptive lesions.
Brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way of preventing dental disease. This must be introduced gradually and gently (ideally in puppies and kittens) and should be made as pleasant an experience as possible. We suggest you start by finding an enzymatic pet toothpaste with an appropriate flavour (poultry/malt and fish are the most common) and offer a small amount of the paste on your finger as a treat.
Then, gently apply the paste to the tooth and gum, giving praise and a reward. Start with one tooth initially then gradually start to work you way around the mouth-expect this this to take some time-especially in older pets. Once you are confident with applying the paste with a finger you can progress to a soft baby or pet toothbrush. Ideally tooth brushing should be performed daily.
In some animals tooth brushing will just not be possible. In these animals specialist dental biscuits (eg Royal Canin Dental or Hills t/d) and dental chews (eg Dentagen,Virbac Veggiedent or Greenies) and playing with textured dental or rope toys may help with manual plaque control.
Where there is gingivitis or mild periodontal disease use of chlorhexidine water additives (eg Vetdent Aqua), gels (eg Petdent Gel) or mouth washes (eg Virbac Hexarinse) may help reduce bacterial load and improve gum health.