Do we really need dog dentists?
In a word… yes! In three words – very much, yes! You may have questions, such as why do dogs need dentists, and how should an owner know when their dog needs to take a trip to the dentist? Don’t worry, we are on-hand to help!
Why is dentistry important?
Dental care in veterinary is very important because poor dental hygiene has a big impact on your dog’s health and quality of life; it can lead to bacteraemia and pain, which impact upon your dog’s mental wellbeing, too.
- Bacteraemia; dogs naturally have bacteria in their mouth. However, when their teeth have been untended to for many years, there are build-ups of plaque, just like on a human tooth. These plaques can harbour huge amounts of bacteria; when there is inflammation of the gums (as in gingivitis), damage to teeth and damage to tooth roots, these bacteria can get into the bloodstream, causing bacteraemia. The bacteria can cause havoc within your dog’s body, setting up infections in organs in the body, including in the heart; this causes a serious condition known as bacterial endocarditis. Other organs can be affected too, including the liver, kidneys and joints. As a result, dental disease is a known cause of heart and kidney failure!
- Pain; have you ever had a sore tooth? Chances are your dog has, too; and chances are it was just as sore! Dental pain can be very distressing for dogs, who cannot tell us what is wrong. Luckily, regular veterinary checks can assist in diagnosing dental pain; other indicators of dental pain include behavioural changes such as decreased eating, and pawing at the face, which we will discuss later.
- Quality of life; as you will be aware, dogs love to eat! Eating, grooming, chewing toys and catching balls are activities which many of our four-legged friends adore. When they are suffering from dental pain, it can affect their quality of life if they are unable to enjoy these activities.
How can you tell if your pet needs a dental?
So, now we know that dentistry is very important to your pet’s well-being, how can we tell when dental issues are adversely affecting your pet?
- Teeth; a healthy tooth will be a white or cream colour; puppies will have bright-white little razors, whereas older dogs will have more staining on their teeth. Some discolouration is to be expected, however, brown and black streaks, or plaques, are a sign of unpleasant build-up on the tooth. Missing teeth and chips out of teeth can also present problems, too.
- Gums; the gums should be pink and moist. Areas of dark red in the gum where the tooth emerges from can be indicative of gingivitis, and a tell-tale sign of unhealthy gums! Gums and the tissues of the mouth should be free from ulcers, red spots and congestion (dark red areas). Gums can also recede, too, exposing more of the tooth than they should.
- Halitosis; this is a veterinary term for bad breath! It may seem easy to dismiss – surely all dogs have bad breath?! However, bad breath can be an indication of diseased teeth, or even the bacteraemia we discussed earlier; best to mention to us when you visit for a check-up!
- Behavioural changes; pawing at the face and hesitating before eating can be signs of pain. If dental pain is ongoing, you may notice your dog is losing weight and being lethargic, too. If your dog seems a bit down, it may be because they aren’t able to play and chew like they used to, or that they are in pain. Although many conditions can cause dogs to become lethargic and dull, it is always a good idea to have a word with us about any change in behaviour.
What is a dental?
You may have had a suggestion to “Get your dog a dental”; but what does this entail? Generally, after having a full clinical exam, your dog will undergo an anaesthetic. While anaesthetised and being attentively monitored, the vet will have good access to your dog’s mouth. Understandably, most dogs don’t like their mouths being poked and prodded while awake – and most vets don’t like a dog to be disgruntled, when they need to inspect “the snappy end”!
Just like with human dentists, vets use ultrasonic tools and high-pressure water to do a “scale”; this will remove excess plaque and tartar build up. Removing these hubs of bacteria will greatly improve your dog’s oral hygiene, drastically reducing the chances of the awful, aforementioned bacteraemia. If there is damage to teeth, or the gum is too unhealthy to save the tooth, it may need removing; most dogs will adapt exceptionally well to this loss, and you wouldn’t even know they had lost one! We can then perform a polish; this will give the teeth some protection.
There are a number of more specialist procedures which can be performed, such as root canal procedures. These will depend on your dog’s oral health. Nonetheless, dental health is extremely important and whatever it is your dog needs done, it is safe to say that they will feel a lot better for having a healthy mouth!
Wishing your dog a healthy, happy, sparkly-white smile!