The majority of adult pets have some degree of dental disease, which can cause not only significant pain and discomfort but also problems inside their mouth and throughout their body. Our Town & Country Animal Hospital team is concerned about your pet’s oral health, and we offer facts you need to know to protect your pet’s mouth.

#1: Dental disease affects pets early in life

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats exhibit dental disease by age 3. Food particles that remain in your pet’s mouth after a meal or treat attract bacteria that form slimy deposits on their teeth called plaque, which mineralize into tartar, if not removed. Tartar is a solid, gritty substance that prevents oxygen from reaching the outer tooth, changing the bacterial characteristics around the tooth, and leading to inflammation and infection.

#2: Dental disease can cause your pet significant pain

Dental disease is a chronic infection inside your pet’s mouth. Bacteria invade under their gum line to break down the supporting tooth structures, leading to bad breath, swollen gums, loose and missing teeth, abscesses, and in severe cases, a fractured jaw bone. The disease progresses in four stages:

  • Stage one — In stage one, called gingivitis, the bacteria cause inflammation around the teeth, but no structural loss has occurred.
  • Stage two — Early periodontitis is diagnosed when less than 25% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost.
  • Stage three — Moderate periodontitis is diagnosed when 25% to 50% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost.
  • Stage four — Advanced periodontitis is diagnosed when more than 50% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost.

#3: Dental disease is not usually obvious in pets

While your pet with dental disease typically experiences significant discomfort, they tend to hide signs of pain, making detection difficult. Also, some dental disease signs can be associated with other issues. In addition to bad breath, missing teeth, and bleeding gums, signs to look for include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Swellings or draining tracts under the eye
  • Chronic drainage from the eye
  • Chronic sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Reluctance to eat or eating slowly

#4: Dental disease can affect your pet’s systemic health

The bacteria responsible for dental disease can enter your pet’s bloodstream and cause systemic infection and damage organs, such as their heart, kidneys, and liver.

#5: A professional dental cleaning is the best way to address your pet’s dental disease

Professional veterinary dental cleanings are necessary to thoroughly assess your pet’s dental health and effectively remove the bacteria from their teeth and under their gum line, where they do the most damage. Most pets need a professional dental cleaning about once a year, but some pets (i.e., small-breed and brachycephalic pets) are at higher risk for dental disease and may need more frequent treatments.

#6: Dental X-rays are important to evaluate your pet’s oral health

Most dental disease occurs below the gum line, so dental X-rays are necessary to thoroughly evaluate your pet’s oral health. These views show your pet’s tooth roots and help our team see the integrity of their teeth and jaw bones. 

#7: Anesthesia is necessary to safely and effectively assess and clean your pet’s teeth

During a veterinary professional dental cleaning, pets are typically placed under general anesthesia, so our team can fully evaluate their oral health and thoroughly clean under their gum line. Because we use sharp instruments to probe and clean your pet’s teeth, your pet needs to be anesthetized to help protect them from potential injury and discomfort, and to ensure they don’t experience stress. A trained veterinary professional closely monitors your pet throughout the procedure until they fully recover.

#8: Your pet may need medication after a professional dental cleaning

If your pet needs an extraction or other dental procedure, we may prescribe antibiotics or pain medication to address infection and help manage their pain. We will provide detailed instructions to ensure you know how and when to administer the drug, and how long they should be dosed.

#9: At-home dental care is essential to keep your pet’s mouth healthy

Plaque starts to form on your pet’s teeth only hours after a professional veterinary dental cleaning, making at-home dental care critical to keep your pet’s mouth healthy between cleanings. Recommendations include:

  • Daily brushing — The best way to keep your pet’s mouth healthy is daily toothbrushing, which promotes good oral health and can help prevent potentially expensive procedures. Ensure you use pet-specific toothpaste, because human dental products can be toxic to pets.
  • Dental treats — Dental treats can also help remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth. Choose options approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) to ensure they are effective.
  • Dental diets — In some cases, we may recommend a dental diet that is specially formulated to reduce plaque accumulation and promote oral health.

Dental disease is a concerning issue that can significantly affect your pet’s quality of life. If you would like to schedule a professional veterinary dental cleaning, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Town & Country Animal Hospital, so we can ensure your pet’s smile is camera ready.