Your pets get daily treats, exercise, cuddles, and premium food. But are you giving them a daily teeth brushing? If not, you’re leaving them susceptible to periodontal disease, which can lead to bad breath, gingivitis, and more.
Periodontal disease is the most common veterinary diagnosis. According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease by age 3. Very small breeds are known for developing periodontal disease before their first birthdays!
Dental disease is easy to overlook. Other than bad breath (which doesn’t happen in all pets), there aren’t many symptoms so count on your veterinarian to recognize periodontal disease. This hidden problem makes annual dental exams of utmost importance to your pet’s health.
How dental disease occurs in dogs and cats
Periodontal disease includes gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth). Periodontal disease begins with plaque; plaque occurs when a bacterial film sticks to the surface of the teeth. This is constantly happening. As saliva encounters plaque, minerals in the saliva cause calculus (tartar) to develop. As plaque and tartar spread beneath the gum line, the tissues around the teeth become damaged, leading to tooth loss over time.
Periodontal disease can affect the nasal passages and the jaw bone, and bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and be carried around the body. Studies in dogs show that dental disease is associated with small changes in the heart, liver, and kidneys that can lead to problems in those organs.
How to recognize the signs of dental disease in dogs and cats
Periodontal disease is often silent, a hidden condition of cats and dogs. When signs of periodontal disease exist, they include:
- Bad breath
- Reluctance to eat
- Whining while eating
- Pawing at the face
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive licking around the mouth and nose
- Discolored teeth
Even if your pets aren’t exhibiting any of these signs, they may still be due for a dental exam if they:
- Chew abrasive substances, such as rocks
- Haven’t had an exam in more than a year
- Do not receive regular dental care
What to expect at a professional canine or feline dental exam and cleaning
When your pet receives dental services at Animal Medical Center, you should expect a full day’s stay. First, we evaluate your pet’s fitness for anesthesia, often running a health screen that includes bloodwork and a urinalysis. For a complete dental exam, radiographs, and dental work, your pet is under a safe general anesthesia. We perform a full dental examination and take dental radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate the structures in the mouth we cannot see. We then perform an ultrasonic scaling above and below the gum line to remove plaque and calculus. Afterwards, we polish the teeth to help prevent plaque-forming bacteria from attaching to the teeth. In some instances, we apply a sealant to the teeth.
We recommend an annual dental exam so we can visually inspect the teeth for cracked or loose teeth, recessed gums, or obvious plaque and tartar. We recommend at least one dental cleaning per year, too.
How to care for your cat’s or dog’s teeth at home
While professional dental care is important, at-home care is just as important. Just like your own teeth, you need to keep your pets’ teeth in top shape between professional cleanings. This includes daily or nearly-daily brushing with a toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste. Do not use human toothpaste, and do not force your pet to have his or her teeth brushed. Introduced properly (calmly, without pressure), a daily teeth brushing can be a great bonding experience between you and your pet.
You can also give your dogs and cats dental chews or certain human foods, such as carrots, that promote healthy teeth. Certain foods, like Hill’s T/D diet, also promote dental health; ask a Animal Medical Center veterinarian if this is a good choice for your pet.
There are no products that can remove tartar and calculus that have already accumulated on the teeth – only a professional cleaning can do that. Once your pet has received his or her annual cleaning, however, at-home measures are a great way to keep the mouth healthy until next year.
If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s dental health, call Animal Medical Center today to make an appointment.