Smelly breath reveals underlying teeth problems
Nunu the Pomeranian came to us for a regular check-up and vaccination in June this year. She was only 5 and a half years old, but during her full health examination, our vet noticed that her breath was just terrible! Her owners had also noticed this becoming worse, and had also found that she no longer chew the dry food. Looking closer in her mouth, an enormous amount of bacterial buildup on her teeth (called tartar or calculus) could be seen, which was leading to severely inflamed gums and smelly breath. It was evident that these changes were causing some of her teeth to become loose, as they would wobble when we touched them.
Nunu's owners were keen to get her mouth cleaned up and healthy again, so booked her in for a dental procedure after a pre-anaesthetic blood test showed healthy results. With Nunu under general anaesthetic, we began cleaning away the tartar coating her teeth with an ultrasonic scaler, a similar process to that performed by human dentists. Once all the teeth were cleaned, it was evident that several of Nunu's baby (deciduous) teeth were still firmly rooted in her gums. They had not fallen out as they should have done when her adult set of teeth pushed through her gums at 4-10 months of age. This meant there were more teeth in her mouth than normal and they were pushing each other out of their normal position so that they could all fit. This was leading to the teeth in the upper and lower jaws not aligning correctly. This can be a major factor in causing rapid dental disease as the teeth don't help clean each other during the normal chewing motion of dry food.
After placing some nerve blocks to reduce the pain of extracting teeth, we removed all of Nunu's baby teeth and also some of her adult teeth that were very badly damaged to return to full health. Nunu recovered well from the procedure and her owners were instructed to start feeding her dental food, dental treats and performing regular tooth brushing once her gums had completely healed (about 2 weeks after the procedure).
In all pets, it is vital to consider dental health when choosing a diet. In fact, it is often more critical than in people because animals can't brush their own teeth. If pets will tolerate you brushing their teeth gently, then this is one of the best ways to prevent dental disease, just as it is for us.
If your pet will not tolerate their teeth being brushed, other important ways to help keep the teeth clean are daily dental treats or chews, e.g. Greenies, or a daily serve of a prescription dental diet, e.g. Hill's t/d or Royal Canin dental diets. The link above has many informative articles about dental care and options for you and your pet.
Just as in human health, prevention of dental disease is much better than trying to fix the disease once it has progressed. It is a lot safer, less painful and less expensive in the long term. Dental disease not only looks and smells bad, but it can cause mouth pain (even though most animals are too brave to show it), as well as significantly increase the risk of disease in internal organs, e.g. heart, liver and kidneys. The earlier in life we get our pets on a good diet, the better we can avoid problems later on. As vets, we aim to assess each patient's teeth at every visit. In regard to Nunu's issue with retained baby teeth, the 3rd puppy vaccination and check-up (at about 4 months old) is very important too.