Dental disease is the most common diagnosis in dogs and cats over one year of age. Over half of pets are noted to have dental calculus (tartar) on their yearly physical examinations, and that percentage increases with age. Disease in the mouth doesn’t stop at whether the crowns of your pets teeth are clean and white, in fact, it can go much deeper. Let’s immediately jump to a huge dentistry concept and why it’s essential pet parents are in the know!
The most appropriate term used by vets is PERIODONTAL DISEASE.
What is PERIODONTAL disease?
Periodontal disease refers to the issues that arise associated with not just the tooth itself, but just as importantly, the structures that surround and support the tooth. This includes structures like the gingiva (gums), the periodontal ligament (connective tissues that hold the tooth in the socket), and even the alveolar bone (bone that meets the ligament in the skull). Approximately 50-60% of the entire tooth structure is located UNDERNEATH the gum tissue.
How does periodontal disease start?
Bacteria in the mouth release a “biofilm” which calcifies on the crown surface. This begins to form what we know as “tartar” or dental calculus. These bacteria also stimulate the local immune system and cause inflammation along the gumline. If this process progresses and bacteria continue to cause calculus formation and inflammation, these changes begin to work their way under the gingiva and start to affect tissue essential for tooth attachment. With time, the periodontal ligament and surrounding alveolar bone can become inflamed, infected, broken down and even abscessed to necrotic.
Why is dental care important for our pets?
Periodontal disease is a common source of pain and infection in our pets that even the best intentioned pet owners can miss. Many pets continue to eat and act normally until the problem is so severe, that teeth need to be extracted. I’ve seen pets with teeth that are actually rotting out of the animals mouth and the pet is still eating. It’s incredible what our pets will persist through. These teeth can not only be extremely painful, but can also act as a source of infection and bacterial spread to the rest of the body, particularly for pets with other existing conditions like cardiac (heart) disease.
How do I help provide the best care for my pets mouth?
Regular visits to your vet are important to get a look at the inside of your pet’s mouth. The best way to evaluate your pet’s overall oral health is with what’s called a COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatments). This involves the same general process with what humans get at the dentist including an examination, full mouth dental x-rays, a full scaling/polishing, followed by any specialty treatments needed. Because our pets don’t like to allow us to look in their mouths, this is all done safely and effectively under general anesthesia by your vet. Some pets may only require a dental cleaning every few years, while others may build up tartar so quickly a cleaning is required every 6-12 months.
NOTE: This process is completely different from what is referred to as “non-anesthetic” dental cleanings. Non-anesthetic dental cleanings are not recommended by vets for several reasons including safety/stress of the pet, the lack of assessing over half of the tooth structure (what’s under the gums), and the inability to smooth out the tooth surface after hand scaling type removal of tartar – leaving MORE grooves in the teeth for tartar to re-adhere to.
Home care is just as important to keeping your pets mouth a happy place. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website provides an extensive list of safe and effective home care products, including treats that are safe for teeth. Home care should not replace full dental cleanings at the vet when indicated, but instead should be in support of/in addition to. Home care can include:
- Teeth brushing with pet safe toothpaste/toothbrush
- Dental treats
- Dental health foods, both over the counter or prescription
- Hills Prescription Diet t/d tends to be a winner for me in both dogs and cats!
To check out some of these veterinarian recommended products and tips, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council Website: http://www.vohc.org/
A happy, healthy mouth is absolutely essential when it comes to ensuring your pets best possible life. Between home care, and using your vets expertise to know when full cleanings are warranted – we’ve come a long way in treating periodontal disease!
Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS