Your pet’s dental health plays a vital role in her overall health. If left untreated, dental disease can lead to more advanced health issues. To help prevent dental disease, be diligent in maintaining proper dental care, including regular oral hygiene habits at home and annual veterinary exams.
What is periodontal disease?
When your pet eats, bacteria and plaque can accumulate on her teeth. Without regular tooth brushing, that plaque will harden to become tartar, a cement-like substance that is difficult to remove. When tartar and bacteria accumulate beneath the gum line, your pet’s gums can become painful, inflamed, and infected, and the bacteria and infection can spread through the blood, affecting other areas of the body, like the heart, kidneys, and liver.
By the age of three, most pets will have some level of periodontal disease. The severity of periodontal disease is graded on a scale from 0–4:
- Grade 0 — Indicates no plaque accumulation or gingivitis present.
- Grade 1 — Diagnosed when some plaque and gingivitis are seen; can be reversed with care at home.
- Grade 2 — Indicates gingivitis and mild tartar accumulation are visible; professional dental cleaning needed to remove tartar and reverse gingivitis.
- Grade 3 — Diagnosed with heavy tartar, gingivitis, and bone loss; some teeth may be broken or fractured; pain likely; professional dental cleaning needed.
- Grade 4 — Severe tartar and gum recession present; teeth may be missing and/or broken beneath the layers of tartar accumulation; pain is present; professional dental cleaning necessary.
What are the signs of periodontal disease in pets?
Pets suffering from periodontal disease may exhibit:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding from the gums
- Discolored, loose, or missing teeth
- Decreased appetite
- Excessive drooling
- Pawing at the face
Periodontal disease can be quite painful, and pets in pain may also experience behavioral changes, including irritability, a decrease in activity, inappropriate urination, and more.
Why are regular veterinary dental exams important?
During your pet’s regular preventive health care exam, we’ll closely examine her teeth and other areas in and around her mouth, looking for areas of concern, including:
- Broken and cracked teeth
- Infections and/or abscesses
- Retained baby teeth
- Misaligned teeth and/or bite
- Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Plaque and tartar accumulation
- Periodontal disease
While plaque build-up on the teeth can be easy to see, the plaque and bacteria beneath the gum line—where most dental disease occurs—is not. Your pet may be experiencing dental pain without you even knowing it. Through regular veterinary exams, your veterinarian can diagnose any oral health issues and determine if a dental cleaning is necessary.
How is periodontal disease in pets treated?
If your pet is diagnosed with periodontal disease, we’ll recommend a professional dental cleaning. Before cleaning your pet’s teeth, our team will obtain dental X-rays so we can determine the extent of her periodontal disease. We’ll then conduct a thorough cleaning of her teeth, including beneath the gum line.
Dental cleanings and radiographs are performed under general anesthesia through the care of your veterinarian and our support team. Animals do not understand what is happening during such procedures, so minimizing their fear is important. And, X-rays require pets to remain completely still, which anesthesia enables. The use of anesthesia allows us to perform all dental procedures necessary with minimal pain and stress and keeps your pet and our team safe from potential injury during the procedure.
How can periodontal disease in pets be prevented?
Proper oral hygiene at home is the best way to prevent periodontal disease. Here are ways to keep your pet’s teeth healthy at home:
- Daily brushing — Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is ideal. Start a regular brushing regimen when your pet is as young as possible so she’ll become accustomed to it. To help your dog or cat learn to tolerate brushing, start slowly using your finger. Then, progress to include a pet-friendly toothpaste and move your finger further into the mouth. Always offer plenty of praise and give a treat after brushing sessions. Eventually, move on to a pet-friendly toothbrush.
- Oral rinses and gels — Antiseptic rinses and oral gels can aid in preventing the accumulation of plaque. Chlorhexidine, squirted inside the mouth on each cheek, is the most effective antiseptic, binding to teeth and gingival surfaces. Gels are applied to the outer surface of the teeth.
- Dental chews — Avoid bones, antlers, and other hard products that can break your pet’s teeth. Look for products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval.
- Dental diets — Some foods have been designed to mimic brushing of the teeth and can include polyphosphate, which is an anti-tartar chemical.
February is Pet Dental Health Month, and we’re offering 15 percent off dental cleanings during January and February. Call our office for details.