Dental disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a common condition in pets that tends to start early. More than 80% of pets have dental disease to some degree by the time they are 3 years of age. You may have noticed your pet’s foul breath, but halitosis isn’t the only issue your pet will encounter if their teeth aren’t cared for properly. Poor oral hygiene can lead to significant health conditions. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and our team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital explains why dental care is so important for your pet’s overall wellbeing, so you can book your pet’s dental appointment early.

What is periodontal disease in pets?

Plaque, which is a substance that contains food and bacteria, accumulates on your pet’s teeth. Plaque that is not removed hardens and becomes tartar, which can invade below the gumline, damaging your pet’s gums, bone, and other structures that support their teeth. All pets are at risk for developing dental disease, but pets who are predisposed include those who don’t receive regular dental cleanings, or have a malocclusion, and brachycephalic breeds. Periodontal disease has four stages.

  • Stage one — In stage one, your pet’s gums become inflamed, a condition called gingivitis. During this stage, no bone loss has occurred, and the tooth is firmly attached. Signs include red or swollen gums, bad breath, and gums that bleed when your pet chews.
  • Stage two — In stage two, 25% or less of the tooth’s attachment to the supporting structures is lost. Mild bone loss may also be present, but this can be appreciated only on X-rays. Signs include red or puffy gums, bad breath, gums that bleed when your pet chews, and receded gums.
  • Stage three — In stage three, 25% to 50% of the tooth’s attachment to the supporting structures is lost. Moderate to severe bone loss can be seen on X-rays, and abnormal periodontal pockets are present. Signs include red or puffy gums, bad breath, gums that bleed when your pet chews, moderate gum recession, and loose teeth.
  • Stage four — In stage four, more than 50% of the tooth’s attachment to the supporting structures is lost. Signs include tooth root exposure, loose teeth, missing teeth, and possible purulent discharge around teeth. Any tooth in stage four must be extracted.

How does periodontal disease affect pets?

If bacteria are allowed to propagate under your pet’s gumline, serious consequences may occur.

  • Oral pain — Gum disease can be extremely painful for pets, especially if the condition is severe. 
  • Tooth loss — When the bacteria significantly damages the structures that support your pet’s teeth, they can lose teeth, making chewing difficult.
  • Tooth abscesses — When left untreated, periodontal disease can cause tooth root abscesses, which can rupture through the skin, creating nasty open wounds on the cheeks or chin.
  • Jaw fractures — Advanced periodontal disease causes the bones that support the teeth to break down, which can lead to jaw fractures. Cats and toy breed dogs are at highest risk. 
  • Organ damage — The bacteria can travel throughout the body, causing damage to numerous organs. Periodontal disease increases your pet’s risk for kidney, liver, and heart disease. In addition, the circulating bacteria can make regulating blood sugar in diabetic pets difficult.

How can I protect my pet from periodontal disease?

The good news is that periodontal disease is easily preventable. Steps to ensure your pet doesn’t develop the disease include:

  • Ensuring your pet receives regular dental cleanings — Pets should receive preventive veterinary dental cleanings starting at age 1 or 2 years old. The frequency of the cleanings will depend on your pet’s breed, their periodontal disease severity, and your at-home dental care routine. Veterinary dental cleanings are performed under general anesthesia to allow comprehensive assessment of your pet’s oral health, and to ensure their teeth are well cleaned below the gumline. Dental X-rays are also an important part of a thorough dental assessment to evaluate your pet’s tooth roots and bones supporting their teeth.

  • Brushing your pet’s teeth — Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is the best action you can take at home to prevent periodontal disease. Use only toothpaste specifically formulated for pets, since human toothpaste is dangerous for them, and use a pet-safe toothbrush, or one that has soft bristles designed for children. Brushing should be started around 6 months of age, after they have their adult teeth. Older pets can also learn to accept toothbrushing.
    • Rub your finger over your pet’s front teeth and gums several times a day, to get them used to their mouth being handled. Give your pet a treat when they calmly accept the handling.
    • Once they allow you to handle their mouth, place a small amount of toothpaste on your finger, and rub this on their teeth and gums.
    • Allow your pet to sniff the toothbrush, and make a few gentle brush strokes on their front teeth. Give your pet a treat when they accept the toothbrush.
    • Apply a small amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush, and start by brushing their front teeth for a short period. You can gradually work up to brushing their back teeth and to longer sessions, as they become more comfortable. When brushing, ensure you gently brush under their gum line.

Regular dental care is important to your pet’s overall wellbeing. Book your appointment early, and ask our team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital about the promotions we are offering for Dental Health Month.