Important Information about Pet Dental Health
-Written by Kelsey Miner
-Edited by Jessie Isbell
Did you know that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will have some evidence of dental disease by the age of 3? We take care of our teeth, so we should take care of our pet’s teeth as well. Dental health is very important to our pet’s overall health!
We’ll learn about periodontal disease, look at some signs and symptoms of dental problems in your pet, ways to prevent problems in the first place, get a vet’s perspective, and hear about special issues relating to cats.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is the most common dental issue our pets deal with, and it is also preventable. Periodontal disease is an inflammation and infection of the gums, causing tooth decay and potential tooth loss. It begins when bacteria start to form plaque, that sticks to the teeth. Natural minerals in the mouth start to harden the plaque, turning it into a cement-like form of tartar, which firmly sticks to the teeth. At this point, periodontal disease can be stopped or slightly reversed, or it can continue to get more serious, like when the plaque and tartar spread under the gum line. The bacteria that are lying under the gum line then start destroying the tissue supporting and surrounding the tooth. These initial changes in the mouth start to change your pet’s immune system. Along with problems in the mouth, other organs in the body are directly at risk. Both the heart and kidneys are at risk for severe problems if a periodontal infection is not treated.
The disease comes in 4 stages:
- Stage 1: mild build-up of tartar and slightly swollen and reddened gums. No bone loss.
- Stage 2: build-up of tartar, swollen and reddened gums. X-rays will show 0-25% bone loss.
- Stage 3: more swelling due to bone loss. Bone loss starts occurring due to plaque under the gum line. Sometimes the affected teeth can be saved, but most will need to extracted to prevent further damage.
- Stage 4: This is when symptoms become noticeable and a serious problem is at hand. Bad breath, visible bulge of the crown, tenderness, red gums, and decrease in appetite are all signs of stage 4 periodontal disease. There are pockets in the gums due to substantial bone loss.
Signs Your Dog May Have a Dental Issue
How are we supposed to know if our dog has periodontal disease or some other dental issue? When trying to diagnose a dental issue in our pets, look for these signs:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding or swollen gums
- Discolored teeth and gums
- Loose or missing teeth
- Ulcers/pus on gums or tongue
- Trouble eating or chewing
- Pawing at the mouth
- Excessive drooling
- Change in behavior, as in acting timid or aggressive
Prevention Is Key
It’s best if we don’t have to treat dental disease, and instead, we can just prevent it, right? Well, here’s how:
- Brushing-this should be part of your daily/weekly routine, according to vets. This is the best way to prevent build-up on the teeth between professional cleanings. Start by letting your doggy smell the toothbrush and toothpaste, and then gradually work your way up to brushing for 30 seconds on each side of his mouth, at least, every other day.
- Dental toys and treats like Greenies that gently scrape teeth clean and remove excess calcium in the saliva that can be deposited in teeth are a good way to prevent tartar build-up.
- Bones and rawhides are good at scraping teeth clean as well
- A diet low in sugars and carbohydrates will make a HUGE difference. Make sure you are buying a good, quality food.
- Water additives, sprays, and gels that are plaque retardant are available
- Regular dental check-ups, cleanings and x-rays are important
- Act quickly if you suspect there is a dental issue, and get your doggy right in to see the vet!
*Human toothpaste should be avoided for pets as they contain harmful chemicals that should not be swallowed.
Dr. Barden Greenfield, DVM, specializes in dentistry at Memphis Veterinary Specialists. He was adamant about the importance of regular dental checkups and x-rays, “The best way to prevent dental disease is to have a dental exam during the pet’s annual checkup. Make sure that your veterinarian is looking thoroughly. It is also important that your regular veterinarian knows what to look for during a dental exam.” In some cases, dental x-rays are going to be your number one tool in combating disease. According to Dr. Greenfield, x-rays can detect 40% more issues in cats and 30% more in dogs than an exam without x-rays.
Cat Dental Health
Dental disease is no different in cats than it is in dogs. It may be difficult to get cats to accept an at-home oral health routine, though! There are specific toothbrushes made just for cats, there are finger-brushes, gels, and water additives as we already talked about. Try different pet-toothpaste flavors, or try making your own at home. Also, try brushing your cat's teeth around people he trusts in a calm environment!
Maintenance and early treatment of a problem will help prevent a big issue with a big vet bill in the future. Ropes, raw bones, and rawhide chips will entertain your dog, all the while scraping plaque off his teeth. An average Stage 4 dental cleaning with extractions and pain management will cost well over $500. And your pet may need to have this procedure performed multiple times. Untreated dental infections can also lead to infections of major organs, like the heart and kidneys, and this can threaten your pet’s life. As humans, we do all that we can to make sure we take care of our own teeth. We need to do the same with our fur babies!