Pet Dental Disease

Has your vet mentioned that your dog or cat is in need of a dental cleaning? Have you noticed your pets suffering from bad breath or dark, discolored teeth? Before you dismiss the idea of dental care for your pets, consider this: many of the diseases of “old age” in dogs and cats can be traced back directly to chronic infections in the mouth, including heart valve disease, kidney failure, liver failure, and bone/joint disease. There are approximately one-trillion bacteria living in just one gram of tartar in your pet’s mouth. As the plaque and tartar build up, small amounts of bacteria are shed into the bloodstream. They don’t cause problems right away, but gradually settle throughout the body and in all the major organs leading to a slow, progressive damage. In fact, dental disease is the number one most common disease condition is dogs and cats, affecting 95% of these pets at some point in their lifetime, often more than once. In the last ten to fifteen years, the significance of dental disease has been a lot more closely studied in small animal medicine, and made a real priority in their care.

When your pet eats, trapped food particles stuck between the teeth are digested by bacteria to form plaque, a yellow, sticky coating for the teeth. As the plague continues to build, then gums become inflamed and infected, a condition known as gingivitis. This is seen as redness, and occasionally bleeding along the gum line above the teeth. With time, the plaque eventually hardens to form tartar which holds the bacteria to the surface of the teeth and pushes it under the gum line. This deeper infection of the teeth, their roots, and the gums is known as periodontal disease. It can progress to loss of the infected teeth, bone around the teeth being dissolved, and bacteria being shed into the bloodstream to spread throughout the body.

Smaller dogs and cats tend to build up tartar on their teeth at a faster rate than large dogs. In addition, pets eating exclusively hard food have less plaque build up than pets eating any canned food or table food. Once the plaque on the teeth has hardened and formed tartar, simple brushing cannot remove it, and your pet has progressed to the point of needing a dental cleaning from your veterinarian.  More severe disease can often be recognized by bad breath, bleeding or redness along the gums, drooling or excessive licking behavior, soreness around the face or muzzle, or occasionally pus noted around the teeth. These patients may be in need of urgent veterinary attention.