National Pet Dental Health Month

Dental Examination

By Dr. Monica DeVilbiss, DVM

When was the last time you peaked into your dog or cat’s mouth?  Does your pet have yellow, brown or gray teeth? Surprisingly bad breath? Or reddened gums?

Dental disease, more specifically periodontal disease, is one of the most common health problems seen in dogs and cats, affecting about 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 years.  Unfortunately, many times it goes unidentified by pet owners because the outward signs tend to go unnoticed.

Periodontal disease is the disease of the structures surrounding the tooth, such as the gums and bone. Periodontal disease has two basic stages; gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, and periodontitis, a more serious condition involving infection of the bone itself.
So, what causes periodontal disease? PLAQUE, PLAQUE, PLAQUE. And what is plaque? It is a film of bacteria that is attached to the surface of the tooth and use your pet’s food as their own; they multiply and invade the gums causing gingivitis. Saliva turns plaque into a hard substance called calculus or tartar. Inflamed and infected gums are not only painful to your pet, but allow  bacteria to access the body through the bloodstream, once there they travel to many organs, including the heart, the kidneys, the liver, brain and lungs.

In essence, anything that disrupts the integrity of the teeth or gums can create an entry point for bacteria to invade. This is why fractured teeth can easily lead to dental disease, but developmental causes such as retained baby teeth, excessively crooked teeth and extra number of teeth can also lead to dental disease early in life, since they trap higher amounts of food and bacteria than normal teeth would.

Some common signs of oral disease are:  bad breath, pawing at the mouth, excessive salivation , swelling of the face, bleeding of the gums, sneezing and nose discharge. It’s important to note that even with severe dental disease your pet will likely continue eating, but due to  pain some pets will swallow food whole or eat more slowly.

So what can you do? The best course of action is always prevention. Prevent dental disease by keeping your pet’s teeth clean and healthy. And believe it or not daily brushing, due to its mechanical action,  is the best way (gold standard) of keeping teeth healthy at home.  Now, is this difficult to remember to do and have ‘Fluffly’ or “Kitty” stay still long enough? Yes, but is it worth it? Absolutely. Start by using toothpaste on your finger, then slowly move up to using the toothbrush; make it enjoyable and do it regularly.

Dental diets and certain dental chews are available to help as secondary methods; look for the VOHC seal that indicates the product has met standards for effectiveness in retarding plaque and tartar. Always make sure the chew is the appropriate size for your pet
and never leave them unattended. Ingestion of the wrong kind or size may lead to intestinal problems and possible obstructions. Consult with your vet when choosing dental products.

Your veterinarian plays an important role in helping you keep track of your pet’s dental health by performing dental examinations during your pet’s routine visits, and recommending prophylactic cleanings that are aimed at avoiding periodontal disease.
Dental examinations are graded 1 to 4, starting from minimal tartar to severe gingivitis, tartar and  plaque build-up.  If dental disease is already present and advanced then your veterinarian may need to perform extractions of the affected teeth to avoid further gum inflammation,  infection and damage to the bone, which can lead to further pain, bone loss and  potential jaw fractures.

Make an appointment with your veterinarian today to evaluate your pet’s dental health and if necessary schedule a dental cleaning to keep your pet happy and healthy.