A Healthy Pet Has A Healthy Mouth
When the mouth is kept healthy, your pet can have an extended lifespan and happier life. However, dental disease is one of the most common problems we encounter in dogs and cats. Studies estimate that up to 85% of all dogs and cats over three years of age have some degree of periodontal disease. This is more than just tartar, it involves more serious problems with the structures that surround and support the teeth, the gums and bone. For this reason, we advise all pet owners to schedule an oral health exam with their wellness checkup at least once every year.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is a term used to describe infection and associated inflammation of the periodontium (the tissues surrounding the tooth). This process starts with plaque on the teeth which hardens into tartar. Above the gumline, this is easy to see and remove. But once plaque and tartar go below the gumline, your pet will develop gingivitis, where their gums swell, bleed easily, and feel painful. Left untreated, this infection often spreads deeper into the tooth socket, destroying the bone. Ultimately, the tooth becomes loose and may fall out over time.
There may be other consequences of periodontal disease due to the loss of bone, including a hole from the mouth into the nose (called oronasal fistula), jaw fracture, abscesses with draining tracts that develop in the mouth, on the face, or under the chin. Some studies indicate that the bacteria from a severe oral disease, which gets into the bloodstream, may also be associated with harmful changes in major organs, such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Why Dental Health is So Important
You may have heard that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. While that depends largely on where that mouth has been lately, a dog’s mouth is always a pretty dirty place, and the same goes for cats, too! Saliva, food debris, and bacteria accumulate on the teeth to form plaque. Left undisturbed, plaque rapidly becomes “mineralized” or hardened into calculus (tartar). Substances secreted by the bacteria in plaque contribute to inflammation and infection around and under the gums that can lead to decay, painful abscesses (localized infections), tooth loss, and even infection in other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, liver, and heart.
Taking care of your pet’s teeth is about much more than avoiding bad breath. The consequences of neglected teeth can range from unpleasant to severe, including:
- Pain (from minor discomfort to massive toothache)
- Difficulty eating
- Inflammation of the gums and/or bone
- Loss of teeth
- Infection spreading to heart valves, kidneys, and/or liver
- Shortened lifespan
What to Look For
Until dental disease is severe, many pets do not show any signs of discomfort. This is why we recommend annual oral exams and wellness checkups. However, you should make an appointment if you notice any of the following signs:
- Bad breath (if persistent or extremely bad)
- Brown plaque on teeth
- Red or swollen gums
- Gums that bleed easily
- Excessive salivation
- Broken or loose teeth
- Reluctance to pick up toys with the mouth, hesitating to chew, or chewing only on one side
Your pet may change their behavior once dental problems become more severe, and a veterinary visit is necessary if this occurs. Make sure to take caution when looking into your pet’s mouth. When our furry friends are in pain, they are more likely to bite.
Other dental problems include broken teeth and roots, abscesses or infected teeth, cysts or tumors in the mouth, poorly aligned teeth and bite, a broken or fractured jaw, and palate defects like cleft palate. Cavities are also possible, but far less common in pets than they are in people.
At Harmony Veterinary Center, we offer oral health exams that have no additional charge during a wellness exam. If you’d like, we can even brush your pet’s teeth and show you how to complete this process. We also provide pet-safe toothbrushes and toothpaste. Make sure to never brush your furry friend’s teeth with human toothpaste, which is not meant to be swallowed. Pet-safe toothpaste can be swallowed and does not contain any ingredients that could be harmful to your cat or dog.
Because pets that are awake don’t love humans poking around in their mouth for long, proper dental treatment requires general anesthesia. During dental treatments, the teeth are cleaned to remove the tartar from your pet’s teeth using dental instruments and an ultrasonic cleaning device. The teeth are also polished, this smooths the surfaces of the teeth and reduces the surface area on which bacteria can grow. We also visually inspect and physically probe the teeth for fractures, chips, and other abnormalities; then carefully evaluate the health of the gums and their attachments to the teeth.
Radiographs (x-rays) help to assess what’s going on below the gumline and the health of the underlying bone. Then, depending on what we find, dental treatment can range from a simple cleaning and polishing to more extensive treatments. It is sometimes necessary to take out damaged or decayed teeth. This is far preferable to leaving a tooth that is or is likely to become painful, loose, or infected. Antibiotics and pain medications may be needed before and after dental treatment.
We do not practice anesthesia-free dental cleaning, as it is considered “unacceptable and below the standard of care” by the American Animal Hospital Association, which sets 900 standards of excellence that accredited veterinary hospitals must meet to ensure the highest quality of veterinary care is being delivered. Harmony Veterinary Center is an AAHA accredited hospital and we ensure all our practices help the health of all pets and people, even if it makes your furry friend a little more groggy than usual on the day of the procedure.
Dental Cleaning under anesthesia helps avoid:
- Stress and pain
- Tissue trauma
- Your pet accidentally inhaling plaque and tartar
- The surgical team missing cavities and periodontal pockets
In addition, periodontal disease is a disease that occurs up under the gumline and can only be identified with dental x-rays and treated in a “still” patient under anesthesia. The best way to clean teeth, identify problem areas, and give treatment or preventative measures is with a thorough oral exam and cleaning under anesthesia.
Prevention and Care
It is important to understand that no matter what you do at home, plaque can still build up under the gumline where even a toothbrush cannot reach, and this is where the real problems begin. However, there are several things you can do to help keep your pet’s mouth healthy and avoid extensive dental treatment.
- Daily toothbrushing for dogs and cats can prevent plaque from hardening into tartar, a process that occurs in just 24-48 hours. Always use toothpaste made for pets, not people.
- Feeding specially formulated foods and treats designed to prevent dental problems.
- Providing appropriate chew toys for dogs and cats.
- Feeding abrasive dental chews.
- Using commercial preventatives such as Perio Support or Plaque Off.
- Bringing your pet in for regular check-ups.
Our staff is here to help you. We are happy to make specific recommendations to help keep your pet’s mouth fresh and clean.