Have you ever been relaxing on the couch with your pet and noticed a foul smell coming from their mouth? Upon looking in their mouth, you find thick, brown material stuck to their teeth? This is dental tartar. Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in both dogs and cats, but it is entirely preventable. By three years of age, over 80% of dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease. Dental disease differs in humans and pets. In people, the most common problem is tooth decay, caused by loss of calcium from the tooth enamel that results in painful, infected cavities. In animals, tooth decay is rare. The most common dental problems seen in dogs and cats are periodontal disease and fractured teeth.
Periodontal disease begins when the bacteria of the mouth forms a substance called plaque. Plaque sticks to the surface of the teeth followed by minerals in the salvia hardening the plaque into dental calculus (tartar) and firmly attaches it to the teeth. The tartar that you are able to see above the gum line is not necessarily the cause of disease. The real problem develops when this plaque and dental calculus spreads under the gum line. The bacteria in this “sub-gingival” space secretes toxins that damage the supporting tissue around the tooth, eventually leading to the loss of the tooth. When left untreated, the infection can spread from the oral cavity into the nasal passages weakening the jaw bone which results in a bone infection (osteomyelitis) that causes jaw fractures. This bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and be carried throughout the body. Studies have shown that periodontal disease is associated with microscopic changes in the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Four stages of periodontal disease (see image):
Our pets cannot tell us, as owners, when they are suffering from a toothache; however, there are some signs you can look for in your pet. If you notice any of these signs, you should contact a veterinarian. 1) bad breath – this is a byproduct of the bacterial metabolic process. “Doggy breath” or “tuna breath” is not normal; 2) altered behavior – chewing on one side of the mouth, dropping food, crying when yawning, acting “grumpy”, or not eating anymore; 3) bleeding from the mouth – look for thick, ropey saliva or blood coming from the mouth; 4) a swelling on your pet’s face that may indicate a possible abscess. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact a veterinarian for a physical examination.
If your pet has tartar and/or large amounts of plaque present, a professional dental cleaning is required. This includes a thorough oral examination, scaling, polishing, and possible extractions. The veterinarian will record any abnormalities, extractions, and/or missing teeth on a dental chart. After the procedure, most patients are back to normal the next day. This is when home oral hygiene will help prevent the tartar from coming back. Home oral hygiene can improve the periodontal health of your pet, decrease the progression of the disease, and decrease the frequency of professional dental cleanings. There are many options for home oral care – come in today to discuss the options with a veterinarian!