Sadly, pet dental health is often overlooked. When left unchecked, common problems can lead to pain and, in some cases, extensive surgical procedures. For example, gingivitis is common in dogs and cats. When caught early, it can be stopped through regular cleaning and good oral therapy. When left unchecked, it can lead to periodontitis, which often causes tooth loss and can trigger other serious health problems. Periodontitis can't be cured.
Dental disease can affect our dogs and cats at any stage of life, but it is most common as our pets enter middle age. Studies at Ohio State and Cornell University have found that 85% of dogs and cats older than six years of age have some form of dental disease. Did you know that 40% of all cats over the age of five have cavities? If you’ve ever had a cavity, you know how painful that can be. What’s even worse is that pets, like humans, can develop harmful bacteria in the mouth. This bad bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause serious health problems, like heart, kidney and liver damage.
So What Does This Mean?
The best advice we can give dog and cat owners is to have your pet's teeth checked and cleaned regularly. You wouldn't skip a dental checkup, so why should your pet? Remember, its health is in your hands.
During a dental examination, the veterinarian thoroughly inspects your pet's teeth and gums. Often, the only procedure needed will be a good cleaning. The veterinarian also will suggest a program of home tooth brushing to supplement in-clinic cleaning.
Pet dentistry is much the same as human dentistry. Dogs and cats are subject to many of the same dental problems that face their owners. The procedures for handling those problems are also similar.
Signs of Oral/Dental Disease in Pets
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Broken tooth/teeth
- Excessive drooling
- Reluctance to eat, especially dry food, or to play with chew toys
- Chewing with or favoring one side of the mouth
- Pawing at or rubbing the muzzle/mouth
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Loss of symmetry of the muzzle and/or lower jaw
- Swollen/draining tracts under (or in front of) the eye
- Sudden change in behavior (aggressive or withdrawn)
- Chronic eye infections or drainage with no exact cause or cure
- Inability to open or close the mouth
- Chronic sneezing
- Discolored tooth/teeth
- Abnormal discharge from nose
- A mass/growth in the mouth
If you see any of these clinical signs, take your pet to your veterinarian for a complete oral examination. Your veterinarian may need to sedate or anesthetize your pet, in order to complete the examination.. Dental radiographs (X-rays), not “skull films” (a radiograph of the entire head) may be necessary in order to make a proper diagnosis. Intra-oral radiographs are essential for deciding what’s going on and what needs to done.
Preventive care involves brushing and daily examination of your pet’s mouth. Brushing needs to be done at least 3 to 4 times a week, if you want to make a difference in your pet’s oral health. Plus, by looking in your pet’s mouth while you are brushing, you will be more aware of any oral abnormalities (oral masses, bad breath, missing teeth) or the increased redness of the gums that indicates periodontal disease and the need for a trip to the “Animal Dentist.”
By working with your primary-care veterinarian and a dental specialist, you are sure to increase your companion’s quality of life by providing proper and timely dental and oral healthcare.