Dental disease is one of the most common problems that I see in practice. Dogs and cats build up plaque on their teeth throughout the day just like people do. If this plaque is not removed with brushing, the plaque calcifies into tartar and forms the hard buildup that you can see on your pet’s teeth.
The red line that you see on your pet’s gum line above the teeth is gingivitis. This is the first stage of periodontal disease and means the gums are inflamed from the plaque (bacteria) buildup on the teeth. This is reversible with a dental cleaning and home care. This is generally when we recommend that your pet’s teeth be cleaned.
The next stage of dental disease is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria that sticks to the teeth (plaque and tartar). This plaque extends under the gum line, causing destruction of the attachment between the teeth and gums. This leads to bone loss and loose teeth. Periodontal disease happens under the gum line and can’t be seen when looking in your pet’s mouth. It can only be found on dental x-rays and oral exam. The film for dental x-rays must be placed in the pet’s mouth, therefore pets must be under a general anesthetic in order to obtain these x-rays. A proper dental cleaning requires a general anesthetic in order to clean under the gum line.
Regular dental care is very important as it has been proven to extend the life of your pet and the quality of life. Pets feel tooth pain just like we do- it can be a sharp pain from a cavity or broken teeth to a dull ache from chronic dental disease. It is best to avoid feeding real bones as dogs can break teeth or wear down their teeth excessively. CET Hexachews, Veggiedents and Medi-chews are good choices to allow dogs to chew and not wear down their teeth.
Another reason why dental care is important is to help prevent periodontal disease. Chronic periodontal disease can cause bacteria to shower the body systems on a continual basis and cause infections in other parts of the body (bladder, kidneys, skin, etc).
There is a link between chronic dental disease and oral cancer. The chronic inflammation caused by periodontal disease can lead to abnormal cell growth, leading to cancer.
Fractures of the lower jaw bone can occur with severe periodontal disease. Loss of the bone weakens the lower jaw, causing it to fracture.
Pets with long noses such as Dachshunds with periodontal disease can develop oro-nasal fistulas. This is caused by bone loss, leading to a communication between the oral and nasal cavities. This causes infection in the nasal passages (sinusitis).
Rarely, severe dental disease can cause blindness. The last premolar and molar roots in the upper jaw extend close to the eye. Inflammation of these tooth roots could lead to infection in the eye and blindness.
Regular dental care is an important part of keeping your pet healthy and happy.
Written By: Dr. Lori Skrypnek