Dental Health and Periodontal Disease

February is National Pet Dental Health Month! However, we must not forget that oral health is a concern for all pets, all year round.

Out of all the members of your family, the family pet will have the worst dental hygiene. Cats and dogs do not brush or floss their teeth. They do not use mouthwash. That is why 85% of pets have some degree of periodontal disease by 3 years of age. Periodontal disease, often referred to as dental disease, is the most common ailment veterinarians find in pets. What do you find when you take a look at your pet's teeth and smell your pet's breath?

The teeth of dogs and cats are very similar to our teeth. All teeth have crowns covered with enamel. The crown is above the gum line. However, about two thirds of the tooth is below the gum line and is not visible. The center of the crowns and roots contain blood vessels and nerves. The teeth should be surrounded by bright, smooth, healthy pink gums.

Once a baby tooth has fallen out and an adult tooth has come in, it is quickly covered by plaque. Plaque is a soft, sticky, and colorless bacterial deposit that is continually forming on our and our pets' teeth and gums. If we do not regularly brush away the plaque and disinfect our mouths with mouthwash, the plaque will mineralize into tartar. Tartar is also called calculus. It is the solid, gritty material that the dental hygienist scrapes away from our teeth. Tartar also forms on our pets' teeth.

As the plaque forms and remains on the teeth, the bacteria causes inflammation of the gums. This leads tothe early stages of periodontal disease, gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. If we allow tartar to build up on our teeth or our pets' teeth, it changes the type of bacteria that live around the tooth. These bacteria are even more harmful to the tissues and the bone around the teeth. As the gum tissue weakens, the infecting bacteria can get below the gum line, causing more inflammation and tissue destruction.

Periodontal disease is the breakdown of the gums, tissues and bone in the infected part of the mouth. The beginning stage of periodontal disease is gum disease or gingivitis. Warning signs of gum disease are bad breath, red, swollen, painful and bleeding gums. As periodontal disease progresses the gum disease worsens, deeper tissues become affected, and eventually the bone around the tooth is eaten away. Gingivitis is reversible. Bone loss is not reversible. Eventually the tooth is lost.

In cats and dogs if the bone damage is severe enough, the jaw can actually break. In addition, the bacteria of the mouth also enters the blood supply through the inflamed tissue, and be carried to other areas in the body. This can lead to infection in the heart, liver, kidney or virtually anywhere the bloodstream carries them.

This oral health series will next discuss finding, evaluating, and treating periodontal disease.

If you have any questions or want to discuss your pet's oral health, please call 682-0881 and schedule an appointment to discuss your pet's needs.