Albany Blog

Dental Dilemmas

By December 21, 2022No Comments

Our pets don’t just use their teeth to eat, they are essential tools for grooming, playing, catching, carrying and holding. By the age of 6-8 months a dog will have their full set of 42 teeth, a cat will have 30.


Types of teeth

Each tooth is shaped and positioned in the jaw to provide specific function.

Molars – these are towards the back of the jaw and are used for crushing and grinding.

Premolars – positioned in front of the molars, these are used for chewing and tearing, dogs and cats often tilt their head to one side when using these teeth.

Canines – these are in front of the premolars and are used for holding objects and for puncturing.

Incisors – the front teeth used for nibbling, useful when eating and grooming.


Dental problems

Over 300 species of bacteria can be present in the mouths of cats and dogs!  These bacteria settle on the teeth and in other areas of the mouth and progress to plaque. Plaque consists of skin cells, food particles and bacteria.

Plaque not removed by daily brushing turns to calculus, a harder, rougher substance which is more difficult to remove and is an ideal surface for more plaque to attach. Once calculus has formed, it becomes difficult to keep the teeth clean at home and professional scaling under general anaesthetic is required.

Within days of plaque accumulating, gingivitis can occur. This is a condition that affects the part of the gum around the base of the tooth and can result in irritation, redness, swelling and bleeding.

If left untreated, gingivitis may develop into periodontitis, a condition involving not only the gums, but the ligaments, bone and dental tissue that surround and support the teeth. Periodontitis is not reversible and can ultimately lead to the loss of teeth.

Severe oral infections may lead to bacteria entering the bloodstream, resulting in disease affecting the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.


Other dental conditions include

Retained deciduous (temporary/milk) teeth

Caries (tooth decay)

Discoloured teeth, from trauma following play with tug toys or following a road traffic accident

Resorption lesions – a painful condition where the body breaks down and absorbs the structures that form the tooth

Incompletely formed, or absent enamel

Tooth injuries, such as fractures

Stomatitis – inflammation inside the mouth

Glossitis – inflammation of the tongue

Oral and dental issues are present in most animals. Owners are often unaware of dental issues until they are discovered by a vet during examination, often at a routine health check or when an owner has presented with other health concerns. Often by the time the signs are noticeable, the problem can be well advanced.


The main signs of oral disease 

Halitosis (bad breath)

Broken or discoloured teeth

Changes in eating behaviour

Rubbing or pawing at face or mouth


Bleeding or discharge from the mouth

Change in behaviour

Facial swelling

Reluctance or inability to open and close mouth

Regularly check your pet’s mouth, if you are able to, for any signs of a problem and report concerns to your vet.



Preventing dental problems

In addition to attending for routine health examinations with your vet, there are things you can do at home to keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy.

As humans, we brush our teeth daily to remove plaque build up, ideally we should be doing this for our pets too. This can be easier said than done! Introducing toothbrushing from a young age will help establish a good homecare routine. For older pets, we need to use a more gradual approach.

Tips before you start:

Use a specially formulated pet toothpaste, not a paste intended for human use

Select an appropriately sized toothbrush – use a child’s size brush for cats and smaller breeds of dog and an adult toothbrush for larger breeds

Choose a time that suits your routine and try to keep that as your time to brush each day

Keep each session short, gradually building up the amount of time you spend brushing

If your pet reacts more than a little, stop and try again on another occasion

Give lots of praise for good behaviour. It is fine to feed your pet as a reward after brushing, especially if your pet is very food orientated. This will help to establish a positive association with having their teeth brushed.


How to brush your pet’s teeth


Begin by introducing the toothpaste by applying a small amount onto your fingertip and allowing your pet to lick at it. Progress to smearing some toothpaste onto your finger and gently rubbing your finger along the teeth, do not do this if there is a risk you could be bitten. When your pet is comfortable with this, move on to using a toothbrush.

1. Wet the toothbrush and apply toothpaste

2. Gently hold your pet’s muzzle (nose and mouth)



2. Gently lift the top lip on the side of your pet’s face, using the same hand.



 3. With the other hand, gently brush your pet’s canine teeth (these are the longest teeth). Do the same on the other side. Avoid the incisor teeth at the front of the mouth at this stage as they are the most sensitive teeth.



4. Move to the teeth further back – after the canines, brush the teeth behind, these are the pre-molars and molars. Inside your pet’s cheek, gently slide the brush beyond the corner of the lips to reach the very back teeth. Brush the teeth on the upper jaw first and then move to the bottom teeth. Do this on both sides.



5. Brush the incisors – lift the top lip at the front of the mouth and brush the very front teeth.



Repeat each stage daily and move onto the next step when you feel your pet is comfortable. Do this until you manage all the steps in one session – you are now cleaning your pet’s teeth!

Although teeth brushing is the single most effective method of dental care, there are other options too, something is better than nothing.  The following can be used in addition to brushing, or in place of for those pets who do not tolerate having their teeth brushed:

Veterinary recommended dental diets – specially designed kibble that maximises the scraping effect as your pet crunches the food.

Dental chews (take care to choose lower calorie options) – the action of chewing helps to remove plaque, some contain enzymes that help to minimise bacteria in the mouth.

Applying pet safe toothpaste using a cotton bud (particularly useful for cats) or your finger or apply onto your pet’s paws and allow them to lick it off

Avoiding hard or abrasive toys as these can cause damage.