Oral Health and Dental Disease
If your pet has bad breath, it may be a sign of dental disease or other serious illness.
The oral health of our pets is an often overlooked aspect of general healthcare for dogs and cats. The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that, by age three, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have signs of oral disease.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues that surround and support the tooth. Initially, bacteria begin to build up on the tooth, forming a film of plaque. At first, this film is soft and can be removed by at-home brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Over time the plaque can become calcified from calcium in the saliva, forming tartar. This hard, rough surface allows yet more plaque to accumulate.
Eventually, if left untreated, gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums may develop. As this inflammation of the gums progresses, plaque and calculus begin to accumulate below the gum line. In the end stages of periodontal disease, infection can form around the tooth root and the tissues surrounding the tooth begin to erode, causing the tooth to become loose.
Progression of periodontal disease is a painful process. In addition, infection of the oral cavity may affect other body systems or organs, including the heart, kidney and liver. Many of these problems can be avoided with regular oral examinations, dental cleanings and at-home care. In fact, the AAHA Dental Care Guidelines recommend annual oral examinations and dental cleanings under general anesthesia for all adult dogs and cats.
At Briarcliff Animal Clinic, assessment of your pet’s oral health begins during the routine physical exam. Prior to any dental cleaning or other dental procedure, a pre-anesthetic exam, including bloodwork, is performed to assess your pet’s health and suitability for general anesthesia. If needed, further tests including x-rays, cardiac ultrasound or electrocardiograph may also be run in order to ensure the safety of your pet. While under anesthesia, vital signs including heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, EKG, blood pressure and oxygen saturation are continuously monitored.
The teeth are scaled to remove plaque and calculus, then polished to smooth the surface of the tooth. After cleaning, a periodontal probe is used to evaluate the teeth and measure periodontal pockets. All findings are recorded in the dental chart and compared to past and future evaluations. Digital dental x-rays are another tool used to help assess your pet’s oral health; they can help confirm the need for dental extraction as well as uncover abnormalities that are not detectable by visual exam and periodontal probing alone.
After a thorough dental cleaning, at home care can help control plaque and tartar buildup, improve gum health, and prolong the time between subsequent dental cleanings under anesthesia. At-home brushing with a soft-bristled tooth brush and pet toothpaste is the best way owners can help to maintain their pet’s oral health. For an excellent article on how to brush your pet’s teeth refer to the American Animal Hospital Association’s website for pet owners at www.healthypet.com. If your pet will not tolerate brushing, an anti-plaque rinse or water additive can be tried. In addition, there are prescription diets designed to control plaque as well as special treats and chews; look for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
Maintaining good oral health throughout your pet’s life can help improve their health and overall quality of life. Ask us about developing a dental care plan for your pet and more at-home care tips at your next office visit.
Dr. Tessa Horslev