Taking care of your pet's teeth

Just like humans, our pets need regular and consistent dental care to make sure their teeth stay healthy and functional for as long as possible, and to prevent decay and dental disease.

As people, we know that we need to take care of our teeth at home, but that we also need regular check-ups with a dentist to really stay on top of our dental health. Our pets are just the same.

Dental disease is the most common health condition affecting pets, with 70 per cent of cats and 80 per cent of dogs experiencing some level of dental disease by the time they're three-years-old.

Dental disease can cause significant pain to your pet and, as it advances, your pet could experience infection, inflammation, and bone loss, all of which can affect your pet's general health too. That's why it's very important we make our pet's teeth a priority.

The dental care you need to do at home

There are several things you can do at home to give your pet a good foundation of dental health.

The most effective way to promote good oral health in both cats and dogs is to brush their teeth daily - this may seem a little daunting but most animals will get used to their teeth being brushed. However, it is important that tooth brushing is introduced gradually and with the correct tools and technique.

Generally, the younger your pet is when you start training them to have their teeth brushed, the easier it is. You can get advice from your vet as to the best way to approach this with your pet.

There are also special 'dental' diets for both cats and dogs, which can help to control plaque and tartar. You can speak to your vet about whether this is a good option for your pet.

Dental chews and toys are also available for cats and dogs and can help to reduce the formation of plaque and tartar, although they will not prevent it. Your vet can give you advice on the most effective products.

Another alternative product that your vet may advise is a Chlorhexidine mouth wash or gel. These are used to try and reduce the proliferation of bacteria in the mouth, which can contribute to dental disease.

Make sure your pet gets a dental check up every year

Your pet should have an annual visit to the vet to have a general health examination and a dental check-up is a very important part of this. At this visit, your vet will be able to assess your pet's teeth and gum health, and provide advice on anything you need to manage at home or whether a dental is needed.

Your vet may recommend that your pet has a general anaesthesia and dental; this allows a full dental examination, cleaning of your pet's teeth, dental x-rays if indicated, and the treatment of any specific problems (such as damaged teeth), if required.

It's crucial to remember that all pet dentistry should be performed while your pet is fully anaesthetised.

A full dental examination and cleaning of the teeth requires general anaesthesia. It is not possible to adequately examine all of the oral cavity and surfaces of the teeth, or perform dental x-rays to fully assess the condition of the teeth without general anaesthesia.

Dentistry may also be painful. Probing under the gum line, scraping scale and tartar off teeth with an ultrasonic scaler, examining cavities, touching exposed tooth pulp and extracting teeth would cause pain and distress to your pet if they were not under anaesthetic.

Dentistry should only ever be performed under anaesthesia to prevent your pet from experiencing fear, stress and pain during the process.

Remember, modern anaesthetic agents used by veterinarians are very safe; they are often the anaesthetic agents used by human anaesthetists. Anaesthetised animals are closely monitored by veterinary staff and anaesthetic complications are rare.

Even older pets and those with chronic diseases including heart or kidney problems, can undergo anaesthesia safely but may need some extra tests and precautions. Your vet can advise you on the best course of action.

With the right care and attention from you and your vet, you can keep your pet's oral health in great shape.