Gum disease is one of the most common problems we see at Small Friends Veterinary Hospital. Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, can cause many problems for your small friend, which can affect their day-to-day routine and could even shorten their life. The good news is however, that avoiding dental disease can be as simple as feeding the right food and providing regular opportunities for your small friend to chew.
Why do teeth get ‘dirty’?
If you imagine before cats and dogs were domesticated, they used to catch and kill food themselves. Catching and eating a meal involved chewing through hair, hide, tendons, muscles and bones. All this “work” to eat their food meant that a cat or dog always had clean, shiny teeth because they were always being scraped and cleaned in the process of eating. Modern day small friends are often fed soft (tinned) food that poses little challenge to their teeth and gums. Soft or wet food does not provide the abrasive action that is required to keep teeth clean. It is a bit like us trying to clean our teeth by eating a bowl of soup. There is just no mechanical abrasion in soft foods to scrape plaque and build up of food particles from your small friend’s teeth.
How does gum disease occur?
When teeth are not cleaned regularly, plaque builds up along the gums, just like if we don’t clean our own teeth. Plaque is a mix of old food particles, bacteria and saliva. Over time as plaque hardens it becomes mineralised and forms a hard substance called “tartar”. This tartar allows more bacteria to build up along the gum line causing infection and gingivitis (inflammation of gums). This then rapidly leads to pain, difficulty eating, bad breath, gum recession and tooth loss, and in some cases can lead to an infection in the bones around the teeth. In addition to this, bacteria can be transferred into the bloodstream affecting the heart, liver, kidneys and other internal organs.
How do we avoid gum disease?
Good dental hygiene can be achieved easily by feeding your small friend crunchy dry food daily. In addition to this small friends should be regularly offered something they can chew on. This can come in the form of raw bones, pigs ears, hide chews, or toys where treats are hidden. A great example of this kind of toy is a Kong™. Kongs™ are hard rubber toys in which all kinds of treats can be hidden. Whilst your small friend is trying to get the treat out of the Kong™ they are chewing and rubbing their teeth against the hard rubber. Another option is to feed your dog Greenies™. Greenies™ are dog treats which are shaped like a toothbrush. They are hard and chewy and take a lot of “work” to eat; offering great mechanical abrasion, which keeps teeth clean. They can be eaten daily and help to remove plaque, tartar, and food build-up from the teeth.
Much like young children, some small friends prefer not to eat hard food due to the extra effort involved. This is something that you and your small friend need to work through together. By persisting and encouraging your small friend to eat some hard, crunchy food everyday, you can help maintain your small friend’s health.
How do we treat gum disease?
When tartar and gingivitis becomes really bad, it may be too painful for your small friend to clean their own teeth simply by chewing dry food and bones. In these extreme cases it is often necessary for one of our vets to help out by cleaning your small friend’s teeth for them. Dental cleaning is done under anaesthetic at Small Friends Veterinary Hospital. Each tooth is individually cleaned using an ultrasonic scaler and then polished to shiny white. Teeth that are beyond repair, or those that are loosely held in damaged gums may be extracted. After a dental procedure, your small friend may go home on medication used to treat pain and/or infection.
Good dental hygiene can be maintained easily by feeding your small friend some dry food daily and providing regular access to chews, bones and crunchy treats. At Small Friends Veterinary Hospital we offer FREE dental checks with our nurses. If you have any questions regarding your small friend’s teeth or would like a FREE dental check, please call Small Friends Veterinary Hospital on 02 6262 2233.
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