Dental Disease In Dogs and Cats
Dental disease is a very common problem in pets. Over 85% of dogs and cats over 4 years old have dental disease. Unlike us, dogs and cats do not commonly get cavities but they do suffer from tartar buildup and periodontal disease, which left untreated, leads to infected and rotten teeth. Infected/rotten teeth are a significant source of pain as well as bacteria, which can spread to the heart and the liver causing severe illness.
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease begins with the formation of “plaque”, a coating on the teeth and gums containing bacteria and debris. If plaque is not removed, minerals in chewed food/saliva will be deposited and hard dental “tartar” forms. The tartar causes irritation of the gums and tissues surrounding the tooth. Bacteria grow around the tartar and under the edge of the gums. These bacteria gradually dissolve the supporting structures of the tooth, permanently damaging the tooth itself.
How do I know if my pet has dental disease?
Most commonly people will notice bad breath, however dental disease is very advanced by the time this occurs.
- The earliest sign of periodontal disease is red/swollen gums, which may be subtle and difficult to notice in many dogs and cats. The large teeth located along the side of the mouth are more frequently affected than the front teeth.
- Next, “tartar” is deposited on the surface of the teeth just above the gum line. Tartar is hard and permanent, and cannot be removed with brushing.
- As this process worsens, bacteria deposit underneath the gum line and destroy the supporting structures of the tooth.
- The gums may eventually retract, exposing the roots of the teeth.
- Abscesses (large infections) may form under the teeth, which is very painful!
The earliest stage of periodontal disease—red, inflamed gums—is reversible. A proper dental cleaning performed under a general anesthetic plus a home dental care plan can restore your pet’s teeth to their healthy state. However, once bacteria develop under the gum line the teeth can become permanently damaged. This is often irreversible and dental surgery is required to remove the affected teeth.
Prevention and Treatment of Dental Disease
A thorough dental cleaning, followed by home dental care, can control periodontal disease. The cleaning must be done under anesthesia so that all areas can be cleaned and properly assessed. Additionally, any teeth that are infected/loose need to be removed during the procedure. Your pet will be more comfortable and healthier without loose, infected teeth.
Many people worry about the risks of anesthesia, especially with older pets. Yet older pets are often the ones most in need of dental care. A thorough physical examination and laboratory tests to identify health problems combined with modern, low-risk anesthetics can make safe anesthesia possible for many pets. The risks are low compared to the benefits of dental care for most pets, even elderly ones.
How can I prevent dental disease?
- Tooth brushing using a pet specific toothpaste
- Specific Veterinary prescription diets such as the Royal Canin Dental Diet is very effective at reducing plaque build up.
- Oral rinses / Dental wipes
- Veterinary Oral Care chews
Bones of any kind are NOT recommended for dental care, due to the risk of fractured teeth (among other complications)
It is important to remember that pets are individuals and may develop plaque and subsequent dental disease very quickly despite prevention measures, while others seem quite resistant. Many small breed dogs, such as: Yorkshire terriers and Chihuahuas, as well as, short nosed dogs such as: Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bulldogs and Pugs require frequent dental care even with rigorous prevention measures.
- My pet is still chewing his food so he must not be in pain
- All pets with dental disease are in pain, however pets will still eat despite this pain. Sometimes they will favour a certain side of their mouth in an effort to reduce the pain.
- If my pet has some teeth removed then he/she will not be able to eat!
- Your pet will be able to eat pain free now that the infected/damaged teeth have been removed.
A list of products that have received approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (a non-profit independent group of board-certified veterinary dentists) is available at www.vohc.org. Check out this website and try to incorporate some of these prevention measures into your dogs routine.
Take home message
It is important to remember that oral health plays an important role in pet health. Dental disease doesn’t just affect the mouth, but the entire body. Dental disease is a source of extreme pain and infection. Bacteria that has accumulated in the mouth can be carried by the blood stream to the heart, liver, kidneys and other internal organs resulting in severe illness.
BOOK YOUR PETS DENTAL CLEANING IN JANUARY OR FEBRUARY AND RECEIVE 20% OFF THE DENTAL PACKAGE, INCLUDING: DENTAL CLEANING, I.V. FLUIDS, PRE- ANESTHETIC BLOOD PANEL, DENTAL X-RAYS, EXTRACTIONS (IF NEEDED) AND A TAKE HOME DENTAL CARE KIT WITH COMPLIMENTARY BAG OF ROYAL CANIN DENTAL DIET!
Sincerely, The Doctors and Staff of the Interior Pet Health Group.
(Fairfield Animal Hospital, Central Valley Vet Hospital & Westbank Animal Care Hospital)
Reference: Clinical Vet Advisor, 2nd Ed. Cote et al.