February is National Pet Dental Health Month, a time when the veterinary profession brings awareness to the importance of pet oral health care. If you’ve never thought about your pet’s teeth, now is a great time to start. Your pet’s dental health impacts their overall wellness, so your South Shores Pet Clinic team would like to share some facts about dental health and disease, to help you keep your pet healthy. 

Why is pet dental health important?

Your pet’s dental health can affect their overall health and quality of life, as untreated dental disease can cause significant pain, difficulty eating, and serious oral infections. Also, bacteria in the mouth may build up, seep into the bloodstream, and spread to the liver, heart, or kidneys, causing permanent damage. Severe damage can cause these organs to dysfunction, and shorten your pet’s lifespan.

What is periodontal disease in pets?

Dental disease is also called periodontal disease—a term that describes diseased structures surrounding the teeth, including the gums, ligaments, and bone. Periodontal disease is the most commonly diagnosed problem in pets, with 70% to 85% showing signs by age 3. Left untreated, this progressive disease will lead to pain, bone loss, and tooth loss. 

How does periodontal disease happen in pets?

The same process that occurs in your own mouth, happens to your pet. Plaque builds up on the teeth each day, and must be brushed away to avoid hardening into tartar—also called calculus. If the teeth aren’t brushed and tartar forms, bacteria are trapped at the gum line, and continue to build up over time. The tartar erodes the attachment of the gums and tissues below the gum line, eventually eating away at the bone and tooth roots. The process causes inflammation and pain for your pet, and affected teeth will become loose or fall out. 

What are periodontal disease signs in pets?

Because most pets instinctually hide pain, dental disease signs can be subtle. You may not see any outward signs of discomfort until your pet’s problem has become severe, so regular check-ups are important, to detect early issues. If your pet does show signs, you may notice:

  • Bad breath
  • Lack of interest in previously loved chew toys
  • Bleeding gums
  • Difficulty chewing, dropping food
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the face or mouth
  • Generalized behavior changes (e.g., grumpiness)
  • Swelling on one side of the face

How is periodontal disease treated in pets?

Once tartar buildup has begun, a professional dental cleaning and treatment are required. During treatment, your pet is anesthetized for safety and thoroughness, since we can’t ask them to sit still and open wide the way your dentist can. A professional dental cleaning includes:

  • X-rays — Sixty percent of the tooth hides below the gum line, where most problems are found. X-rays may reveal abscesses, bone loss, cavities, retained teeth, or cysts.
  • Scaling — Hand instruments and ultrasonic scaling are used to clean the teeth above and below the gum line.
  • Polishing — A powered polisher and abrasive paste smooth the tooth surface, to prevent future plaque and tartar buildup.
  • Oral exam/charting — Teeth are probed at the gum line to check tissue attachment depth, and a full oral exam is performed and documented. 
  • Extractions/treatments — Diseased teeth are extracted and the gum tissue is sutured closed. Deep, infected gum tissue pockets can sometimes be treated with root planing and antibiotic gel application. 

How can I keep my pet’s mouth healthy?

Prevention is key for your pet’s oral health, which requires a multi-pronged approach, including:

  • Regular veterinary oral exams — See your veterinarian for your pet’s oral examination at least once a year, with your annual wellness visit. For pets with ongoing dental issues, twice yearly may be required.
  • Regular professional cleanings—Your pet should have their first professional dental cleaning before age 2. After that, your veterinarian can determine the best interval between cleanings based on your pet’s size, breed, and individual genetics.
  • Oral home care—Home care is the mainstay of your pet’s oral health, and can extend the time between professional cleanings. Daily toothbrushing is the best option to remove plaque buildup on an ongoing basis, but two to three times weekly may be effective for some pets. For pets who won’t accept toothbrushing, check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) list of approved dental products for alternative plaque control options. Your veterinarian can recommend the best products for your pet. Whatever products you choose, remember that consistency is key.

The overall health of your pet starts with the health of their mouth. Bacteria that accumulate from dental disease can cause lasting damage, so now is the time to get serious about your pet’s oral care. Call us to schedule a visit with your South Shores Pet Clinic team for a dental examination and professional dental cleaning, or with any questions about your pet’s dental health.