The health of your pet’s mouth, teeth and gums is something to be taken seriously, no different to our own. It is no secret why dentists encourage us to visit them at least once a year and sometimes more often. It enables them to spot any issues that might be brewing early and take preventative action and give advice. The statistics relating to dental disease in cats and dogs are quite shocking – one study concluded that, of cats and dogs over the age of three years, 85% are suffering with some form of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease refers to a myriad of problems involving the teeth and gums, and includes the build-up of plaque, gingivitis, and the even more serious stomatitis whereby mucous membranes (lips and gums) become infected. Seeing plaque on pets’ teeth has become something of the norm, something to be expected however it can easily build to harmful levels. It might be surprising to some to know that it is even associated with heart, liver and kidney disease in pets, as bacteria from plaque can enter the bloodstream.

Diabetes is a known risk factor for poor dental health and so these patients should be assessed even more regularly. These diseases are by and large preventable, provided that a considered and cohesive approach is adopted involving pet owner and veterinary professionals. This is why we run vet nurse consultations on dental health.

Upon attending a dental health check with our nurses you can be sure that they will thoroughly explore your pet’s mouth (or as far as the individual will allow). By lifting your pet’s lips and opening their mouth, they can assess the cleanliness of the teeth, the level of plaque build-up and importantly the health of the gums. Pets are good at hiding pain, especially mouth pain. The development of such discomfort might happen gradually, allowing them to devise ways to compensate for a painful area (for example by chewing food in another region of the mouth). Cats especially are highly stoical when it comes to any physical weakness, and so dental problems can go unnoticed until they are well developed and sometimes irreversible.

Gingivitis for example (inflamed areas of the gum, darker pink or red in colour) is one such common problem that vets and nurses regularly come across. It should be assumed that even mild gingivitis causes some degree of pain and whilst our nurses are trained to notice these sorts of issues, this doesn’t mean that at the first sight of gum soreness we will rush your pet in for a general anaesthetic and dental procedure. Gingivitis is a condition that is often reversible, and so our nurses will advise you of how you can prevent further deterioration and take detailed notes of the current state of the mouth in order to track changes. They will advise veterinary dental treatment when the time becomes appropriate or for other, more serious problems.

Dental health checks don’t end at the examination and there is a great deal of advice that can be obtained from our nurses. They will advise on the best kind of diet for your pet’s specific needs (dental and otherwise) as well as which treats can positively or negatively impact the health of your pet’s mouth. Our nurses are trained to provide tailored advice because they know that each pet is different. For example dog breeds with shorter noses such as the shih tzu, are likely to suffer overcrowding of teeth which is associated with certain dental problems. They also know that longer nosed dogs like greyhounds don’t necessarily get off scot-free where dental health is concerned, as many are thought to suffer with inherited dental issues.

So whatever the potential problems, our nurses will show you how best to assess your pet’s mouth and which tricks are best suited to keeping it healthy. If daily brushing is recommended, they will take you through how to do so step by step. If your pet objects, regular visits might allow the nurses to help acclimatise them to the procedure. If the time comes when your pet requires a dental procedure under anaesthetic, our nurses will reassure you by talking you through the process as well as how to best prevent the same problems from returning thereafter.

A vet nurse will always involve the vet when they are concerned, or where they believe that a vet’s attention is required more urgently. However we’re sure you’ll agree that vet nurses have a huge role to play in a pet’s dental health and in turn the wellbeing of pets too!