Dental Care

Just like humans, our pets are vulnerable to gum disease and problems with their teeth. Alarmingly, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats suffer from some form of dental disease by the age of three.  Most people brush at least daily and have yearly check-ups at the dentist.  Normal dry food no matter how much crunching there is, is not effective at cleaning your pet's teeth.  

An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure.

When it comes to dental health prevention is much better than needing a general anaesthetic for a full dental procedure.


Preventative dental care

The gold standard for your dog's dental care is to brush their teeth once a day.  Brushing weekly or brushing done at the groomers every 6 weeks is not going to cut it.  Toothbrushing in pets is often done with a beef or chicken flavoured paste to make the chore more enjoyable for your pet.  You are best to use a grainy paste rather than a gel, and a small children's toothbrush.  You only need to brush the outside of teeth and don'tvneed to completely open their mouths.  Your dog will lick the paste on the outside of their teeth and effectively brush the inside while doing so. 

Saying you are going to brush their teeth is easy to say but who has time for that in this busy world that we live in. Aim for every day and if you end up brushing at least 4 times a week, you are doing pretty well. 

A compromise is to feed a dry food with dental cleaning properties.  General adult dry food does not help to clean the teeth as much as people think.  Dental dry foods are a complete diet and should ideally be given as your dog’s sole food source.  In some dog’s this is enough.  If tartar is still accumulating or if your dog is fussy, add dental treats into their diet.  Dental treats from the supermarket work as long as your dog spends time to eat them.  Dental treats from the vet are more specialised and help to clean the teeth even if they do not chew them much.  A benefit of dental chews verses bones is that if they are swallowed whole, the stomach acids will still break them done and not cause any issues. 

If your dog is not one to chew properly or very fussy, you can use liquids to help reduce the number of bacteria in their mouth.  These have a similar effect to if you stopped brushing your teeth and only used mouthwash (i.e. not very good dental care but better than nothing).  These fluids can be put directly in the mouth or into your pets water supply depending on the brand.   


Why vets don't like bones

HINT: It is not because we want you to buy dental chews from us! 

Dogs love bones, they love them so much they sometimes swallow large sections without chewing them very well. 

  • We see bones stuck in mouths also.  Cut bones will get stuck over the teeth themselves. Bones often get stuck across the roof of the mouth.  We also see broken teeth due to bone chewing.   
  • When dogs chew bones, pieces that break off are often sharp and irregular and can get stuck in their throats, stomachs or intestines.   
  • Cooked bones are almost guaranteed to cause issues - so NEVER give your dog cooked bones.  Raw bones tend to be a lot more flexible and easier to chew. 
  • Dogs that eat a lot of bones, such as chicken necks every day tend to have issues with constipation.  It can sometimes create faeces (poo) that resembles concrete.   
  • Raw chicken bones definitely cause fewer issues than beef or lamb bones.  If your dog does not eat these straight away however, Salmonella can be an issue.  Salmonella can make your dog, cat, child or yourself very unwell, with vomiting and diarrhoea often to the point of needing hospitalisation. 
  • Bones often have fatty meat attached and if they have marrow in the middle - they can be incredibly fatty.  Excess fat in the diet can lead to weight gain which can lead to joint problems or diabetes.  More importantly, high-fat foods can cause pancreatitis - which is a painful abdominal condition, that often needs hospitalisation to fix. 
  • If you have more than one pet at home, bones are often a high-value item; and dogs and cats will often defend them.  A fight can sometimes ensue if one pet tries to take a bone from another. 

We, as vets definitely see more problems than benefits from giving bones to dogs.  So they are best avoided. 


A note about sticks

The other thing we see a lot of issues with is dogs who play with sticks.  When you throw a stick for your dog, they are running excitedly to catch it and sometimes when running and catching at the same time, they can stumble and end up with the stick stabbing the roof of their mouth!  We also see sticks stuck in shoulders, gums and across the roof of the mouth.  Also, if you throw sticks for your dog, they are more likely to chew sticks in the yard - which, like bones, a piece swallowed can be too long or the wrong shape and cause an intestinal obstruction.  There are safer stick-shaped toys you can use to avoid issues with the sticks themselves, some of them even float. 

Sometimes no matter what you do, your pet will still need a dental procedure.  Dentals are more commonly required in some breeds, especially those with shorter than "normal" nose (normal nose being a wolf or dingo). 

Dental disease is a source of infection in animals; it is painful and will progress to tooth loss.  It is not possible to do a proper dental cleaning on animals unless they are under anaesthesia.  Animals need to be under anaesthesia so we can ultrasonically scale the inside and outside of the teeth as well as beneath the gum line.  We cannot ask an animal to simply sit back with their mouths open and use a machine very similar to the one used by your dentist.  Without being able to communicate what is going on, this would be very loud and scary!   


When should your pet have a dental cleaning?  

Dental disease is graded up to 4.  Zero being completely clean, 4 indicating heavy tartar and gum disease.  Dr Terri will assess your dog's teeth at each visit and let you know when a dental scale is needed or if more prevention is required.  If you notice a change in the smell of your pet's breath or the way that they eat, Dr Terri can come and assess the mouth of your pet to see if a dental procedure is what is needed.  If you simply add in dental chews, you may be doing your pet more harm.


What does a dental procedure involve?  

 Your pet will have a physical exam, bloodwork if necessary and an intravenous catheter before anaesthesia is given.  After your pet is anaesthetised they will be constantly monitored by a trained veterinary nurse to reduce the risk of any complications.   

The equipment used in-clinic is very similar to that used by your dentist. 


Steps of the dental procedure done by the veterinarian 

  1. Remove the majority of the plaque and tartar with forceps. 
  2. Use Periodontal Probe to check individual tooth health, under gum surface health.
  3. All unhealthy teeth or loose teeth are extracted. 
  4. An Ultrasonic Scaler (works like a mini-jackhammer) is then used to remove all cemented on plaque and tartar above and below gum-line.
  5. All teeth are then polished smooth to reduce build-up of plaque in the future. 


Why, when I go to my dentist I get fillings to save teeth, but my pet has teeth removed? 

For Dogs:  Firstly; do you chew on sticks, bones, or play tug of war with your mouth?  I didn't think so!  Fillings in your mouth are not designed to withstand these kinds of forces.  We as vets do have access to equipment to provide fillings and will advise their use whenever appropriate.  The main reason we remove teeth in dogs is due to loosening of the periodontal ligament (what holds the tooth in place).  Once this is loose; due to genetics, tartar build-up or infection, there is no way to repair that. 

Cats are not people. OR dogs.  Their teeth are shaped very differently.  Our teeth are flat and almost square, theirs are sharp and pointy.  They are also prone to lesions where the surface enamel dissolves (FORL disease) and this causes severe pain that that area.  The tooth also becomes thinner than normal and sometimes will snap in half. 


How will my pet eat if several teeth are extracted?  

This is a concern for many people, however, removing diseased teeth is actually better for your pet. Missing a tooth is much better than having a painful tooth!  In many cases, once the diseased teeth are removed the pet actually eats better because the pain and infection are gone!   

My cat/dog still eats fine and the teeth are bad;is he/she in pain?  

Animals have a strong natural instinct to hide their pain.  By the time they quit eating, the pain is more severe than the will to survive and eat.  Normal eating is not a reliable indicator of pain.  Ask our veterinarian to evaluate the mouth of your pet and demonstrate if pain or infection is present.  


Is my pet too old for a dental procedure?  

Pets are never too old to have pain and infection treated.  Most clients state a major positive change in pets behaviour after their dental disease is appropriately treated.