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Most animals or pets have teeth - most vets will vouch for this fact! Unlike humans, animals are usually not too good at looking after their own teeth and so we usually have to do this for them.
Dental problems will affect nearly all domestic animals at some point in their life to differing extents. This could range from just the inconvenience of bad breath to more serious problems such as gum disease or severe tooth ache. Dental disease can also cause problems not associated with the mouth - bacteria from serious dental disease can potentially enter the blood stream and this can cause kidney damage or even certain forms of heart disease. Even on a basic level - it can seriously affect the animal's enjoyment of life.
The picture on the above is what can happen if good dental care doesn’t take place. This dog has got gingivitis, periodontal disease, loose teeth, a tooth root abscess and a small oral tumour!
From an early age, you will need to get the animal accustomed to having his or her mouth examined (especially dogs). It will make your life easier as owners to examine and familiarise yourself with what is "normal" and will make our job as vets easier when it comes to peering into the snarling abyss! The more you examine the mouth, the less the animal will find the whole experience strange and it should get easier each time.
Again, this is why you should be familiar with what "normal" is like, as only if you can do this will you spot if something is wrong. When examining the mouth and teeth - always be careful and be aware that any animal can inflict a nasty bite if they set their mind to it.
Dogs: lift up the upper lips on the side of the mouth and look at the surface of the teeth - especially the canines and the carnassials, which are the big grinding teeth at the back of the mouth. You should look for excessive plaque build up, signs of sore or infected gums (redness, recession), signs of broken or chipped/fractured teeth and also look for any unusual lumps, bumps or swellings. Try to examine both sides as they can be very different!
Cats: are notoriously more difficult to examine the mouth. Often the best way to quickly check the teeth is when they are yawning! If you can, gently hold the head and push apart the lips at the side of the head. Doing this you should be able to see the canines and molars. Don't worry if you cannot get a good look - even us vets and nurses sometimes struggle!
Rabbits and other small mammals: without special instruments, it is only really possible to check the incisors (long front teeth). Rabbits don't tend to appreciate a dental exam unless they are used to it. Again, it is advisable to start getting them used to having their mouths looked at from an early age. By gently holding the head and lifting the lips up at the front of the mouth - it should be possible to see both the upper and lower incisors. They should be relatively short and not have too much of a curve to them in any directions.
Other than examining the mouth physically - there are lots of other things you can check too:
With many other conditions, prevention is better than cure, and this certainly applies to dental disease too. Often it is not possible to completely avoid dental problems but certain steps can be taken to limit these problems and reduce the need for dental procedures.
If you are concerned about any aspect of the mouth or teeth, you should seek veterinary attention. The nurses will be happy to discuss dental care with you and are able to help you examine the mouth and help decide if the animal should see a vet.
If there is a problem with the teeth, we can help! Our dental services range from a scale and polish (which removes all the plaque from the teeth and then polishes up the surface so it is nice and clean and white again) to more serious dental work (such as tooth extractions or investigations into tooth root abscesses). It has to be appreciated that no animal will lie back and say "aaagh" when we want to examine the mouth in depth or perform any work with the mouth, and so for this reason we nearly always have to give the animal a general anaesthetic. It is again worth mentioning that prevention is better than cure - it is better to do a simple scale and polish, that to wait until the plaque has caused serious tooth decay and gum infections.
We also see problems very commonly in other animals. Rabbits are very prone to real problems with teeth. Whilst overgrown incisors can usually be treated quickly and without the need for a general anaesthetic, they often suffer from molar problems. Because the design of rabbits mouths, it is very difficult to even see the molars without a general anaesthetic, and so rabbit dentistry can be quite challenging.