Dental Care & Bad Breath in Pets

Dental Care & Bad Breath in Pets

All pets are at risk of developing dental problems.

Plaque (a combination of bacteria, proteins, sugars, white blood cells, minerals and water) may form on teeth and lead to mouth odour, pain, infection and tooth loss.

Plaque causes periodontal disease (gum disease). Pockets of infection may form around the roots of the tooth and after mixing with food particles and minerals in saliva, some plaque will harden to form tartar. Early signs of periodontal disease include reddening or inflammation of the tooth-gum margin, called gingivitis.

Do not wait for signs of dental problems (mouth odour, yellow-brown crusty tartar, pain or bleeding gums) to surface before you start preventive dental care.

Use a pet toothbrush and toothpaste. Brush your pet’s teeth daily. If your pet does not tolerate toothpaste, try an animal dental spray.

Treatment and Home Care

If your pet has dental problems, your veterinarian may recommend dental scaling and polishing. Following scaling/polishing, it is vital to maintain your pet’s teeth and gum health at home.

Physical brushing of the tooth is the most effective means of removing plaque. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste designed for animals. Do not use human toothpastes as they froth, which may be a frightening experience for your pet.

Daily brushing should be started as early in your pet’s life as possible.

  • Approach the animal from the side, not face to face.
  • Gently lift up the lip at the front of one side to reveal the canines and incisors.
  • Brush them slowly and gently for a few seconds then stop, let the pet lick the toothpaste then give lots of praise.

Repeat this routine at the same time every day until the animal accepts the procedure. Brush the front teeth of the other side as well. Include the premolars in the tooth brushing.

Feeding large pieces of raw vegetables, tough meat or chewy hide will help clean the teeth as well. A diet containing dry food may reduce the rate of accumulation of plaque. However, tooth brushing is still the most important and effective means of preventing periodontal disease.

Bad breath (or halitosis) is very common in small animals. The main causes of halitosis include:

  1. Severe build up of tartar and plaque
  2. Gingivitis: bacterial infection of the gums, leading to severe redness and swelling of the gums
  3. Stomatitis: inflammation and infection of the oral cavity
  4. Infection of the tonsils, pharynx or larynx (throat area)
  5. Tumours in the mouth
  6. Respiratory infection
  7. Foreign body like a bone stuck in the mouth cavity or in between teeth
  8. Systemic diseases like organ failure (happens more often in older animals)

The clinical signs are obvious. You will detect a foul smell from your pet’s mouth. There is build-up of tartar and plaque especially at the molars. There may be pain when you try to touch or open its mouth. The gums are inflamed and bleed easily. There may be increased salivation and the saliva may be mixed with yellowish pus. Your pet may have difficulty eating and feel discomfort/pain when chewing. Ulcers or lumps may be found in the oral cavity and may cause distortion to the shape of the face.

What should I do if my pet has bad breath?

Daily cleaning and monitoring of your pet’s mouth is important. If the condition of your pet’s teeth is not too bad, then it is important to start daily cleaning of the teeth and the mouth. This can greatly decrease the risk of dental problems and mouth infections. Use an appropriate toothbrush and paste/dental spray to brush your dog’s teeth daily. A cloth can also be used to gently wipe the surface of the teeth and the mouth to get rid of food debris. Chewing bones can also help with removal of food debris.

If the condition is worse (i.e. severe halitosis, swollen gums, increased salivation or pain at mouth when touched), it is important to bring your pet to the vet for a thorough mouth and dental examination. Be prepared that your pet may need to be sedated for a proper examination. General anaesthesia is needed if dental scaling and polishing is opted to remove the buildup of tartar and plaque. Any decayed tooth (or teeth) will be extracted during the procedure. Antibiotics and painkillers are often prescribed after a dental procedure.

Any lumps in the oral cavity must be checked by a vet as soon as possible because mouth tumours can grow very quickly. Surgical removal of the lump is needed but often difficult.

Do not ignore the condition, always address the issue as soon as possible to reduce your pet’s suffering. Consult your regular vet for advice.