Why is it necessary for my dog or cat to have clean teeth?
When an animal eats there are minute changes that occur in the oral cavity. Particles of food get caught in between teeth, there are small areas of damage that occur to the gums, particles of debris are imbedded between the gums and the teeth, saliva particles are caught on the indentations of the tooth enamel etc. These abnormal products accumulate on the teeth of the animal and are called biofilm.
The biofilm that forms on the enamel surface of the tooth contains plaque – a mixture of bacteria and a sticky protein that grows upon itself like a snowball. The bacteria produce enzymes which literally dissolve the tooth and decay of the tooth structure starts. The bacteria also cause infections of the gum—commonly called gingivitis. This in turn leads to “bad breath” and infections in the tonsils, larynx, pharynx and nasal systems.
If this plaque is not mechanically debrided by chewing adequately textured foods or by toothbrushing then it becomes mineralized with magnesium, calcium and phosphate that is present in saliva. This becomes a calculus commonly called “tarter”. The tarter will mechanically push the gums away from the roots of the teeth. This allows the teeth to loosen in their sockets and infection to enter the root socket. The teeth will loosen and fall out or have to be extracted.
This condition is called periodontitis and is the main problem in our animals. It is estimated that once pets are over 6 years of age then a staggering 90% have some form of periodontitis.
This periodontitis causes huge problems in the body of the pet. Every time they eat or groom themselves then up to 20,000 microbes are being directly put into the blood stream and these bacteria then have to be removed by the body’s immune system.
If these bacteria are not removed properly then they can cause problems in lungs, heart, liver, spleen, spinal cord, kidney or other organs.
Why does my dog have bad breath?
Bad breath is caused by bacterial growth within the gums and from tartar build up on the teeth. This condition is called halitosis and is a sure sign that there is gum infection.
Bad breath can also be caused by conditions such as tonsillitis or pharyngitis – these are infections at the back of the throat.
Bad breath can also be caused by gastritis (upset tummies) as the animal regurgitates gas from the stomach (it burps up the bad gas). This form of halitosis can come and go where as the bad breath associated with mouth infections usually is there all the time.
My dog still has its baby teeth. Is that going to be a problem?
Yes it can be a big problem. There is a saying – two teeth cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The role of the adult teeth is to push out the baby teeth and then occupy the same space. That way the teeth will all be sitting “right” and the animal will minimise any decay or interference with other teeth.
We recommend all baby teeth are removed if the adult tooth as reached its full eruption and the baby tooth has not been pushed out.
I have heard that feeding bones will clean my dog’s teeth – is this right?
No it is not right. A dog will clean its teeth using two main methods – the chewing method that results in the dog sinking its teeth into or through an object such as a hunk of meat or while chewing a pig’s ear. The second method is the gnawing action that a dog does when chewing on a large amount of “chewy meat” or using a dental toy.
Bones only break their teeth. If you must feed your dog a bone then please make sure it has a large amount of meat on it.
How common are teeth problems in dogs or cats?
90% cats over the age of 3 years will have mild decay within their mouth that should be addressed.
Small dogs (under the weight of 15kg) usually develop teeth problems by the time they are 5 years of age. Medium sized dogs (from 15kg to 30kg) usually develop teeth or oral problems by the time they are 8 years old. Large dogs (over the 30kg mark) do not develop problems until they are in their geriatric years