Oral disease is painful for our pets and, left untreated, can affect other parts of the body.
Prevention is the most effective and successful tool to minimize our pets’ risk of a potentially life threatening disease. An annual physical exam and oral exam are key components of a preventative health care program. At home teeth brushing is a great way to help prevent dental disease.
What Is Periodontal Disease?
Most pets over 3 years of age have evidence of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a progressive inflammation of the supporting structures surrounding the teeth and is the main cause of early tooth loss.
Toy breeds are at higher risk for periodontal disease because of tooth crowding in the mouth.
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease starts when bacteria form plaque on the teeth. Within days, minerals in the saliva bond with plaque to form tartar, a hard substance that adheres to the teeth. The bacteria work their way under the gums and cause gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gums. Once under the gums, bacteria destroy the supporting tissue around the tooth, leading to tooth loss. Inflammation of the bone and tooth support structures is referred to as periodontitis. The combination of gingivitis and periodontitis is known as periodontal disease. Bacteria associated with dental disease can travel in the bloodstream to the heart, kidneys, and liver.
How Is Periodontal Disease Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian can see signs of gingivitis and tartar buildup by examining your dog’s mouth. However, since most periodontal disease occurs beneath the gum line, the only way to truly assess your dog’s mouth is to perform an examination while your pet is under anesthesia. Your veterinarian can use a dental probe to measure loss of attachment around each tooth and look for other abnormalities.
How Is Periodontal Disease Treated?
Treatment depends on the severity of the disease. If your dog has mild dental disease, consisting of gingivitis without any bone loss, a thorough dental cleaning that includes the area beneath the gums, followed by dental polishing and sometimes antibiotics, can help reverse the problem.
If there has been a loss of the supporting structures around the teeth, however, this cannot be reversed. Tooth extraction may be necessary if the tooth has severe periodontal ligament damage.
What Is a Dental Cleaning?
During a dental cleaning, (1) plaque and tartar are removed from a pet’s teeth and (2) the health of the entire mouth (tongue, gums, lips, and teeth) is assessed. A thorough dental cleaning can be accomplished only while the pet is under general anesthesia. Anesthesia keeps your pet free of pain during the dental procedure and allows your veterinarian to fully inspect the teeth and remove tartar from under the gums. During anesthesia, a soft plastic tube is inserted into the trachea (the main airway in the throat) to support the patient’s breathing.
A dental cleaning may include the following:
- Removal of visible plaque and tartar from the teeth
- Elimination of plaque and tartar from under the gum
- Probing of dental sockets to assess dental disease
- Polishing to smooth enamel scratches that may harbor bacteria
- Dental radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate problems below the gum line
- Application of fluoride or a dental sealer
- Removal or repair of fractured or infected teeth
- Dental charting so progression of dental disease can be monitored over time
- Inspection of the lips, tongue, and entire mouth for growths, wounds, or other problems
How Do I Know if My Pet Needs a Dental Cleaning?
Regular inspection of your pet’s mouth is important to catch dental disease in the early stages. Tartar may appear as a brownish-gold buildup on the teeth, close to the gum line. Redness or bleeding along the gum line may indicate gingivitis. Other signs of dental disease include:
- Bad breath (“doggie breath” is not normal!)
- Pawing at the mouth
- Difficulty chewing
- Loose or missing teeth
If you notice any of these signs in your pet, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
What Are the Benefits of a Dental Cleaning?
A professional dental cleaning removes not only the visible plaque and tartar on the teeth surfaces but also the bacteria under the gums. This helps to eliminate potential sources of infection to the mouth and other organs and to protect your pet from pain and tooth loss.
Click here for information on how to introduce teeth brushing to your pet. A dental prophylaxis may be recommended by the vet when brushing alone is not enough. A prophylaxis is the cleaning and polishing of the tooth crown and under the gum line.
Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council to learn more about pet dental disease, treatment, and prevention. Keep your pet’s mouth from looking like this.