Keoki's Corner

Pet Dental Health

In following the discussion of last week’s post we are going to discuss some important points of pet dental disease. Nearly 85% of pets over three years of age have some form of dental disease, though most will show little sign of it.  While this number is staggering, we have to think of it in relation to humans; on average, we get two dental exams and cleanings per year and brush our teeth every day.  How often are we brushing our pets’ teeth?  Probably not as much as you brush your own.  

What are the signs of dental disease?

The most common sign pet owners notice is bad breath.  Bad breath is often caused by bacteria and decaying food that stick to the tartar on teeth.

Another sign of dental disease is tartar.  Tartar begins as plaque (bacterial biofilm) that coats the surface of the teeth.  If plaque is not removed from the teeth, it will harden (called mineralization) and form tartar and calculus.  Tartar appears as a tan or brown coating on the teeth, particularly on the molars and premolars.  Tartar buildup above and below the gumline can lead to gum recession and infection resulting in tooth loss if untreated. 

Other signs of dental disease could include discomfort while chewing, drooling, or reluctance to eat.

As the dental disease worsens, other problems in the mouth can occur.  Gingivitis is often caused by tartar pushing on the gums, causing recession of the tissue (gingiva) around the teeth.  This appears as redness or inflammation of the gum tissue.  Gingivitis will lead to periodontal disease, the most common dental problem in dogs, which is infection or inflammation of the tissue surrounding the tooth and tooth root.  This can lead to loss of bone structure, which can also lead to tooth loss.

In addition to the problems discussed above, cats can also develop tooth resorptions.  Tooth resorptions are the loss of tooth structure and can appear as gingival tissue growing up onto the tooth or as a hole in the tooth.  Sometimes there is no external evidence and can only be diagnosed by performing x-rays.

TR 2

Photo on the left shows what appears to be reddened gum tissue. The photo on the right shows the same tooth under x-ray where the root has been resorbed by bone, as indicated by the arrows. Click photo to enlarge.

The resorption process involves interactions between hard tissue structures, inflammatory cells, and resorbing cells.  The tooth erodes, exposing blood vessels and nerves, causing pain and opening up a pathway for infection.  Tartar and calculus may disguise the problem by covering the tooth.  Unfortunately, the development of tooth resorptions is not fully understood and there is no known method of prevention at this time.  Often the affected teeth have to be extracted.

Dental disease is graded 0-4 based on the severity of the disease.  See our Dental Grading page to view photos of teeth for each grade of dental disease.

When left untreated, not only can the dental disease cause your pet to lose teeth, but it can also lead to heart, liver, and or kidney problems.

The best way to prevent tartar is by brushing your pet’s teeth regularly with specially formulated pet toothpaste.  Ideally, brushing their teeth every day is best but even a couple times a week is beneficial.  With gentle introduction, many pets will get used to you brushing their teeth.  Other products are available to help keep tartar at bay.  Ask your veterinarian what type of dental care regimen is best for your pet.

Tartar buildup on teeth is highly variable among pets.  Once tartar has formed, teeth need to be professionally cleaned by scaling the teeth with ultrasonic equipment.  Some pets may need dental cleanings as infrequently as every few years and some may need cleanings performed every six months.  Often it can be hard to determine the extent of the dental disease until the pet is under general anesthesia, allowing your veterinarian to thoroughly examine your pet’s mouth. 

If you are concerned about your pet’s dental health, consult with your veterinarian.  We are now offering complimentary dental evaluations for your pet. This is a brief, focused examination of your pet’s oral health. If a dental cleaning is scheduled at the time of the dental evaluation or at the time of your pet’s regular wellness examination, you will receive a 10% discount on their dental procedure.