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Dental Health

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Dental health can play a pivotal role in your pets' overall well-being. Eighty-five percent of dogs and 70% of cats over three years old have some form of periodontal disease with bad breath, excessive salivation and difficulty chewing. These are usually the first signs owners notice.

Below are a list of common dental issues that you can look for. It's important to 'flip the lip' and actually have a good look at all of your pets teeth as these problems are easy to overlook.


Plaque is commonly caused by food residue remaining around the gums and teeth. Soft, mushy foods will leave more residue than dry kibble or food that must be chewed. The bacteria feed off this residue and become plaque. If left on the tooth, mineralisation begins to occur and calculus or tartar forms.

Calculus & Gingivitis

Plaque mineralises/calcifies and becomes calculus or tartar. The gums will react to this by becoming inflamed. This is known as gingivitis. Gums may recede forming pockets and exposing tooth roots. (Source: Royal Canin)

Furcation Exposure Teeth that are multi-rooted can have furcation exposure - the exposure between the roots forming a 'tunnel' (as shown in this picture left) due to tooth and bone destruction. Teeth with furcation exposure need to be extracted.

Source: Source: Gorrel, C (2008). Small Animal Dentistry. 

Sydney: Saunders Elsevier, p16

Tooth Root Abscess These lesions are caused by bacteria growing in the formed pockets around the tooth roots. Swelling may be noticed on the animals face if these lesions are not draining.

Pulp Infection

Fractures to the tooth can expose dental pulp causing pain and inflammation. The pulp will become infected if not acted upon and lesions will form at the base of the root. Tooth extraction is usually indicated in these cases.

Feline Resorptive Lesions

Odontoclasts are cells that are activated when a kitten is losing its baby (deciduous) teeth and are responsible for resorbing the roots and assisting in normal loss of deciduous teeth. In two-thirds of cats these cells are reactivated when they are older, affecting the enamel and dentine of the adult teeth.

(Source:Gorrel, Cecilia (2003). "Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions". Proceedings of the 28th World Congress of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association). Picture source: Gorrel, C (2008). Small Animal Dentistry. Sydney: Saunders Elsevier, p118

Most lesions will present with gingival inflammation due to the disintegration of the enamel in the first stages, and eventually fragmentation of the whole tooth.  This is evident in the picture on the right. Eventually these teeth will fragment and break down and may expose the dental pulp. It is thought these types of lesions are painful and it is best to have these teeth extracted as soon as possible.

Dental Care

Pets which have the above symptoms and issues will generally require an anaesthetic to allow a thorough examination, a full scale and polish and extraction of any teeth which may be causing pain or discomfort. Some animals will have a positive change in mood and behaviour following the removal of offending teeth as they have been living with chronic pain in some situations. Once the teeth have been descaled, routine maintenance as described below, can prevent the need for further dental work - reducing anaesthetic risk, costs and associated negative health implications. Brushing Daily brushing (it's not as awful as it sounds!) is the best way to clean your pets teeth. Using a baby toothbrush and flavoured pet toothpaste (pets cannot use human toothpaste) you can effectively cease the build-up of plaque. Once a routine is formed and your pet begins accepting the procedure this will only take around a minute and is a surprisingly easy habit to form. Dental Chews We stock Greenies at The Ark but most dental chews will help clean the teeth through abrasion. These should be given daily. Dental Diets Dental diets replace a normal adult diet and use both abrasion and specialised ingredients to reduce plaque and bad breath. If you are unable to brush your pets teeth, then these types of diets are useful. We stock Canine Advance & Feline Advance, Hills and Royal Canin). Bones A bone given once weekly (instead of a meal, not as well as) is ideal but it is best to discuss with us how big, what kind of bone etc would suit your pet. Bone marrow is high in fat and has a great potential to cause gastrointestinal issues as well as pancreatic issues. Large bones cut in a way that exposes marrow (split lengthways) should be avoided. Ask us if bones are suitable for your pet and if so, what type and how they should be cut. Antibacterial Mouth Wash Pets that won't allow owners to brush their teeth can use a daily anti-bacterial mouthwash. We stock Hexarinse, a gel-like formula that is dispersed around the mouth by your pets tongue. These mouth washes work by reducing the bacteria load in the mouth (similar to Listerine for humans) therefore reducing plaque.

Things to avoid

Soft, mushy foods leave more residue and will accumulate plaque more quickly than dry diets. If your pet does not chew well or avoids hard foods and dental chews, brushing or mouthwashes are the only way to slow the process of plaque build up.

The Ideal Routine!

For those pets which will let you brush.

  • A dental chew daily

  • Brushing daily

  • A bone replacing a meal once a week. (Read above about bones before giving one).

Won't let you brush?

  • A dental chew daily

  • Dental diet replacing normal adult maintenance diet.

  • A bone replacing a meal once a week.

  • Hexarinse mouthwash daily

Won't let you use mouthwash?

  • A dental chew daily.

  • Dental diet replacing normal adult maintenance diet.

  • A bone replacing a meal once a week.

Won't chew?

  • Brushing or mouthwash.

Won't chew or let you brush/use mouthwash?

  • Your annual consultations are even more important than ever to check on your pets' dental health! Pay extra attention to signs and symptoms such as bad breath, excessive salivating or reluctance to eat. 'Flip the lip' and inspect your pets teeth often. Contact us if any dental health issues are noted as routine scale and polishing can prevent the need to remove teeth. Some pets may require dental procedures every 6 months.

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