Did you know that 80% of cats and dogs have signs of dental disease by the age of 3!?
There are different forms of dental disease that can range from very mild to very extensive and different treatments are required for each. As humans, most of us have access to regular dental health care by dental professionals (dentists, hygienists, etc). We also brush our teeth several times a day and floss regularly to keep our teeth and gums clean and healthy. Unfortunately, most of our cats and dogs do not get their teeth brushed or have prophylactic cleanings as much as humans do so it is no surprise that they develop dental and gingival disease. They also age much more quickly than humans do, which accelerates the progression of disease as well.
Although there are many different things we can do for our pets to maintain dental hygiene at home plaque and tartar accumulates on the teeth and more importantly, underneath the gum line. Infection in these areas can lead to other serious health concerns such as bacterial heart disease. Gingivitis and periodontal disease causes infection and pain but our pets are not able to communicate this to us. Often times, we do not realize how much pain are pets were in until AFTER they have received appropriate dental care. They often become much more lively, playful and active when their mouths are not sore. Therefore, many pets also need professional dental services too that target disease where these ordinary home care tools cannot access.
Signs of dental disease can include any of the following:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Dropping food
- Loss of appetite
- Pawing at the mouth
- Chewing on only one side of the mouth
- Reluctance to chew hard foods
- Reluctance to have teeth brushed or mouth handled
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums (gingivitis)
- Loose or missing teeth (severe periodontal disease)
- Broken teeth (pulp exposure and abcesses under the gumline)
- Loss of appetite
- Dull or depressed mood
Although any breed of dog or cat is at risk for dental disease; certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to periodontal dental disease (loose teeth and infected gums) at an early age, especially small breed dogs such as the Yorkshire Terrier, Poodle, Schnauzer, Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Havanese, Dachshund and more
Large breed dogs are more susceptible to fractured teeth due to chewing on hard substances (antlers, animal bones (cooked or raw), rocks, etc.
In cats, resorptive lesions are of increasing concern.
Courtesy of Virginia Veterinary Dentistry
Read more in this Article: Feline Tooth Resorption
In order to evaluate a pet’s degree of dental disease, we start with an oral examination. For minor periodontal disease (see stage 1 below) or preventative measures, we may recommend dental home care strategies such as tooth brushing, dental diets that help clean the teeth as your pet chews, oral hygiene solutions and monitoring.
Above is a picture of a dog with normal pink gums and healthy, sparkling teeth! There is no evidence of gingivitis, or significant plaque or tartar (stage 0 periodontal disease)
Picture from: http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/5-ways-to-keep-your-pets-teeth-and-gums-healthy-for-life
Read more in this Article: How to brush your pet’s teeth
Advanced Stages of Dental Disease
For more advanced stages of periodontal disease, we are not always able to assess the true extent of disease or provide adequate treatment in an awake patient, no matter how well behaved they are. Often times, our patients will not be comfortable holding their mouths open for more than a few seconds at a time or they may be painful. For more advanced disease, we may recommend a comprehensive oral examination and treatment, which requires under general anesthesia. This allow us to:
- inspect all soft tissues of the mouth including the crowns of each tooth to look for evidence of fractures, wear, abrasion, discoloration, “bite” and alignment
- Calculus (aka tartar) is removed using specialized ultrasonographic instruments (say better…) and hand scaling above and underneath the gumline
- the gumline is examined and abnormal pockets are noted
- if deemed necessary, digital dental x-rays will be taken in order to evaluate teeth below the gum line (to look for things like abcesses). Since approximately 60% of the tooth is hidden from view as well as the surrounding bone; therefore, this is an important step to take in order to evaluate the true health of a tooth
- treatment will be finalized and includes polishing of the tooth surfaces after scaling, extractions, and antiseptic flushes to remove debris. Any updated recommendations will be communicated to the owner by the veterinarian prior to proceeding.
- the mouth is flushed with an antibacterial solution, and extraction sites are sutured.
- The patient is recovered in a comfortable environment and will be discharge home later that evening
- We will discuss homecare including medications and future home hygiene recommendations
Below is a summary of the stages of periodontal disease from: www.avdc.org
Sometimes, dental disease is very obvious. Other times, there is little evidence of disease above the gumline but significant disease underneath.
Consider this case, for example. Superficially, everything about this lower 1st molar looks great! Below the surface of the gumline, there is end-stage periodontal disease and significant bone destruction and is very a very painful condition.
Images courtesy of Dr. Fraser Hale, DVM, FAVD, Dipl AVDC, 2011