Are you concerned about your pet’s dental health? You definitely should be. Most pets have some degree of periodontal disease by the time they reach 3 years of age, and this condition can significantly affect your pet’s overall health. Our team at Homestead Animal Hospital explains why pet dental health care is so important, and provides steps you can take to safeguard your pet from these issues.
Periodontal disease is pervasive in pets
Periodontal disease occurs because bacteria colonize food particles in your pet’s mouth, forming plaque on their teeth that, if not removed, solidifies to become tartar. The bacteria can also invade under the gum line, damaging the supporting structures of your pet’s teeth. Since many pets don’t receive regular dental care and daily toothbrushing, a majority of pets are affected by this issue. Periodontal disease occurs in four stages.
- Gingivitis — The first stage of periodontal disease involves inflammation of your pet’s gums (i.e., gingiva). No bone loss or tooth attachment deterioration has occurred at this point. Signs include red, swollen, and bleeding gums, and bad breath.
- Mild periodontitis — In the second stage of periodontal disease, 25% or less of the tooth’s attachment to its supporting structures is lost. Mildly abnormal periodontal pocketing will be present, and X-rays taken at this time will reveal mild bone loss. Signs include red, swollen, and bleeding gums, bad breath, and gum recession.
- Established periodontitis — In the third stage of periodontal disease, 25% to 50% of the tooth’s attachment to the supporting structures is lost. Abnormal periodontal pocketing will be present, and X-rays taken at this time will reveal moderate to severe bone loss. Signs include red, swollen, and bleeding gums, bad breath, gum recession, and loose teeth.
- Advanced periodontitis — In the fourth stage of periodontal disease, greater than 50% of the tooth’s attachment to the supporting structures is lost. Deep periodontal pockets will be present, and X-rays taken at this time will reveal severe bone loss. Signs include tooth root exposure, loose teeth, missing teeth, and possibly tooth root infections.
Poor pet oral hygiene can lead to health problems
Your pet’s bad breath isn’t the only problem caused by poor dental health. Failing to care for your pet’s oral hygiene can significantly impact their overall wellbeing. Issues they can experience include:
- Oral pain — As the bacteria cause inflammation of your pet’s gums and invade the tissues supporting their teeth, your pet can experience significant chronic pain. Many pets are great at masking this pain, and you may not realize their problem. Signs you may notice include acting more quietly than usual, a reluctance to eat or chew on toys, flinching when their face is touched, and chewing on only one side of their mouth.
- Missing teeth — When the supporting structures have deteriorated more than 50%, your pet can begin to lose teeth. This can make eating difficult, and can predispose them to abscess formation.
- Jaw fractures — In severe periodontal disease, the bacteria can significantly weaken the jaw bones. Cats and toy-breed dogs are at risk for jaw fractures when this occurs.
- Systemic problems — If the bacteria enter your pet’s bloodstream, the infection can damage your pet’s organs, such as their heart, kidneys, and liver.
Regular professional veterinary dental cleanings are needed to keep your pet’s mouth healthy
A professional veterinary dental cleaning is the only way to effectively and thoroughly clean your pet’s teeth, including the area underneath the gum line where most problems originate. You should be aware of a few factors when you bring your pet in for a professional veterinary dental cleaning.
- Your pet will have blood work drawn — We will pull routine blood work to ensure your pet is healthy, and that their kidneys and liver are functioning well enough to undergo general anesthesia.
- Your pet will be anesthetized — Performing a dental cleaning on an awake pet is not safe for the pet or the veterinary professional, and the job can’t be accomplished as thoroughly as needed.
- Your pet will be X-rayed — Dental X-rays are needed to fully assess your pet’s dental health.
At-home dental care is needed to keep your pet’s mouth healthy
In addition to a professional veterinary dental cleaning, at-home dental care is important to keep your pet’s mouth healthy. Plaque can start to form about six hours after a cleaning, and if not removed, the bacteria can spread. Steps to promote your pet’s dental hygiene between professional cleanings include:
- Brushing your pet’s teeth — Pets benefit from daily toothbrushing to remove the accumulated food particles and plaque. Most pets can be taught to accept this procedure if you go slowly, and offer frequent praise and treats. Ensure you use a pet-friendly toothpaste, since human products are toxic to pets. Your pet can choose from many appetizing flavors, such as chicken, beef, seafood, and peanut butter.
- Offering dental chews — Several dental chew products are available that help remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth as they chew. Avoid hard products, such as antlers, bones, and hooves, which can damage your pet’s teeth. Look for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) when shopping at your favorite pet store.
Your pet’s overall wellbeing could be at stake if you do not address their dental care and maintain their oral health. If you would like to schedule a professional veterinary dental cleaning, contact our team at Homestead Animal Hospital, and have your pet say “Ah!”