Dental Disease

S M I L E !

February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

I was unaware that pets have dental problems. Is it common?

Periodontal disease is the number one disease of pets today. It affects 85% of adult dogs and cats, and can strike pets as young as 1 year of age.

Dental disease is influenced by genetics, diet and home care. Fortunately, it is very preventable.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth.

Accumulation of tartar and calculus on the teeth trap bacteria at the gumline. Untreated infection then spreads into the tooth root and surrounding bone, and ultimately the tooth loosens and falls out.

This is a painful condition for your pet. Periodontal infections send a bacterial shower into the blood-stream every time your pet chews. In turn, these bacteria can adversely affect the heart valves, lungs, liver, and kidneys.

How can I tell if my pet has dental disease?

Clinical signs of disease may include

  • bad breath
  • excessive salivation
  • visible brown tartar on the tooth surface
  • appetite changes
  • a new reluctance to eat hard foods or to play with hard toys
  • facial swelling
  • raining wounds under the eyes
  • weight loss
  • pawing at the mouth
  • changes in behavior.

Tooth loss, loose teeth, bleeding gums, and pus between the teeth or at the gum line are indicators of advanced periodontal disease.

What should I do if I suspect my pet may have dental disease?

A thorough oral examination should be performed by your veterinarian at least once a year, or any time you suspect there may be problems.

Your veterinarian may recommend a cleaning procedure which includes ultrasonic scaling above and below the gumline to remove tartar, probing for periodontal pockets, fluoride application, and polishing.

In some cases taking x-rays, applying an oral barrier sealant, and possibly even surgically extracting diseased teeth may be indicated.

Many owners are surprised to see the dramatic improvements in pets that have been treated for advanced dental disease. The pet’s activity level, appetite, and energy often improve significantly.

How can I help prevent dental disease in my pet?

Periodic professional dental cleanings at your veterinarian’s office coupled with home dental care is a critical element of total healthcare for our pets.

Daily tooth brushing is ideal, but do not use human toothpaste when brushing your pet’s teeth. The toothpaste may cause tummy upset and the fluoride levels can be toxic to their kidneys.

Although there is no substitute for brushing, there are other home care options when brushing simply is not possible. These include wiping the teeth with medicated wipes, rinsing the mouth with an antiseptic prescription rinse, using chews such as CET Hextra Chews, and specially formulated dental diets such as t/d by Science Diet.

While it may be tempting to give pets hard items to chew on to “clean” their teeth, real bones, rocks, hard toys such as Nylabones, and even ice can cause fractures of the teeth and are best avoided, especially in dogs under a year of age.

Dental disease is one of the most prevalent, and often most hidden diseases in our pets. With early intervention, the negative effects on the pet’s entire body are easily reversible.

Please contact your veterinarian if you have any additional questions about how to best care for your pet’s oral health.

Written by Dr. Kathy Kallay

(C) 2007, K. M. Kallay

Watch this video about Dental Health from ePetHealth.