The 2019 theme for World Oral Health Day is ‘Say Ahh: Act on Mouth Health’.
Oral health is an issue for our pets and causes problems far beyond just the mouth. It is really important to get your pet used to having their mouth checked from a young age, and do it on a regular basis, so that you are able to pick up on problems quickly.
Periodontal disease is a condition which affects 80% of dogs over the age of 3, and similar numbers of cats. It is caused by the bacteria which make up plaque causing infection and inflammation within the gum. In the early stages, this can be seen by a thin red line of gum inflammation (gingivitis) along the edge of the tooth. If left untreated, periodontal disease will lead to gum recession, tooth loss, bone destruction and potentially jaw fractures.
Periodontal disease can be prevented by regular tooth brushing, and reduced by some other means. For further information on dental care, please click here.
Cats and dogs can get unwanted material stuck in their mouths. In dogs, the most common culprits are pieces of sticks or rawhide chews. In cats, grass is the most likely.
In some cases, it is very obvious that your pet has something stuck. They may suddenly start pawing at the mouth, gagging or salivating excessively. However in other cases, it may be less obvious. If left in place, infections often develop. Signs of a chronic mouth foreign body include:
- bad breath
- sneezing (particularly in cats as the blade of grass tends to get caught at the back of the throat and may move forwards into the nose)
- problems swallowing
Please never throw sticks for your dog and discourage them from chewing them. Dogs can get really severe injuries from sticks.
Cats often injure their mouths by licking sharp objects, for example edges of food cans. This can cause lacerations of the tongue. The tongue can quite profusely, but I have seen cases of cats coming in simply because they are off their food with no evidence of blood on them and have found an infected, torn tongue when looking in their mouth. Any cat that refuses more than one meal should be checked by a vet.
Tooth fractures are common in dogs who chew hard objects, such as stones, bones and antlers. Puppies are particularly vulnerable and any chews given to a puppy should be soft and malleable. Avoid giving bones and antlers to your dog and discourage them from chewing stones (putting a muzzle on to prevent access may be the best way to protect their teeth). Teeth can also be worn down excessively from chewing these objects, as well as regularly carrying tennis balls (the outer coating is quite abrasive).
Feline Tooth Resorption (TR) or Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORLs) occur in cats. They affect a large number of cats and can be very painful. They look like tooth cavities and are often covered with gum tissue. They can occur even in cats with otherwise healthy mouths and seem to have a genetic component.
The lesions on the teeth are progressive. In some cases, the root of the tooth becomes completely reabsorbed. Extraction of the tooth is the only cure and dental x-rays are highly recommended to ensure that the tooth is completely removed.
Tumours in the mouth can be benign (non-cancerous), or malignant (cancerous). Some dogs, particularly Boxers, are prone to benign growths called Epuli which form from the gum. If there are lots of these, or they are interfering with normal chewing action, they may need to be removed.
Cancerous growths can occur anywhere in the mouth. If left to grow they can cause significant discomfort and are very difficult to remove. Early detection is really important to give the best chance of successful treatment so get your pet used to having their mouth examined and if you notice any growths, take them to your vet as soon as possible to get them checked.