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By Phil Burns BVetMed MRCVS


I am going to try and dispel a few myths about common reasons for visits to the vets and give you some practical help to deal with these commonly encountered situations.  


Some pets are born with good teeth that are all in the ideal place, some have lovely smiles for years without any care – these are the exceptions! Most are not that lucky! However, nearly all these problems are preventable and prevention is the key.


If you look after your pet’s teeth and gums they will last a lifetime, this requires some regular effort but costs virtually nothing, it will have significant health benefits to your pet and your pocket! You will need to start when your pet is very young, as soon as you get him/her – get them used to having their face handled and wiped (this removes food residues and helps to prevent allergic skin disease), open their mouths, rub your finger around the teeth and gums. Make this fun and reward them when they are good, be patient, take care and do not allow children to do this until you are confident your pet is happy to comply. You may wish to use this process to encourage your children to brush their teeth at the same time, it certainly works with my kids!


Most vets will be happy to give you free advice and monitoring of oral hygiene. It is best to clean/brush your pet’s teeth after a meal and twice a day would be great but do what you can. Brushing is the most important part of oral hygiene as it removes food residues from the surfaces of the teeth (we all acquire small grooves in the enamel coating of our teeth) and between the teeth, this acts as “food” for bacteria to grow and is the start of mouth problems; remove the food and the bugs don’t grow.


There are many diets, chews, toothpastes etc available to use but they only make a small contribution if you do not clean/brush. I prefer to use an antiseptic mouthwash in liquid or long acting gel form after brushing, but ask your vet for their advice.


So, hopefully now when you go for your pet’s vaccinations or other regular check ups your pet’s mouth will be a place to be proud of – well done!


BUT what if it’s not, and this is a frequent occurrence, your vet will probably suggest dental treatment because your pet had very smelly breath, an indication of lots of bugs growing, large amounts of brown tartar or calculus adhered to the teeth and under the gums and possibly some loose teeth. This will normally involve a general anaesthetic (this is necessary to enable the proper cleaning and/or any necessary extractions to take place), descaling with an ultrasonic machine (exactly like your own hygienist) to remove the tartar and polishing to try and reduce the small scratches and grooves in the enamel. Any teeth that are loose or where the roots are exposed due to receding gums will need to be removed, however, this rarely inconveniences the pet or their ability to eat and the gums heal very quickly. Small, loose teeth can normally be extracted very easily, larger (normally back) teeth that are not loose but have very receded gums can be more difficult to remove, but your vet can discuss this with you.


The long-term health implications of a smelly mouth are great, the occurrence of liver, kidney and heart problems is significantly increased and your pet will not live as long as he/she should. This is in addition to any pain or discomfort he/she may be tolerating. In my experience, most owners notice a marked improvement in the well being of their pet after dental treatment.


So what are you worried about?


The anaesthetic? It is dangerous, my pet is old, you or someone you know has had a bad experience with one. Let’s try to put your mind at rest! Modern anaesthesia is extremely safe and with up-to-date, well maintained equipment, well trained staff and the use of the best available drugs it should not be a barrier to a pet of any age, this is dentistry not major surgery. Your vet, however, will discuss any risks and you must weigh these against the benefits.


The cost? Well, as we have said, if you put in the effort after the job is done ongoing costs will be minimal, without treatment potentially very high. The cost of a straight forward dental which involves an anaesthetic, descale, polish and removal of small, loose teeth including routine antibiotics and pain relief should in my opinion be in the order of £130–150 + VAT. Larger tooth extractions would be extra. Most vets will then send you reminders for free, regular dental checks to monitor your preventative progress.


Costs may often be inflated by the offer of blood tests and various additions to the anaesthetic protocol, for example, a drip. You should discuss the cost to benefit of these with your vet. In my experience, they may be desirable but are often non-essential in a clinically normal pet.


Please do not leave this significant health hazard untreated.

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