You may think that focusing on your pet’s dental health is important only to keep bad breath at bay, but good oral hygiene is essential for a completely healthy, happy pet. Without proper dental care, your furry pal can suffer from painful periodontal problems, although they may not complain about oral pain. However, their bad breath is often the first sign that they have dental disease that is causing discomfort, and needs immediate attention. Read on to discover more about this widespread problem, and how you can help your pet’s smile stay clean and healthy.

What is dental disease in pets?

Dental disease is perhaps the most common health condition seen by veterinarians. Dental disease affects up to 90% of all pets in only a few short years—most pets have some form of dental disease by age 2 or 3. Although this disease affects so many pets, few show obvious signs until the advanced stages. 

The term dental disease, which is often used interchangeably with periodontal disease, describes the inflammation and infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth. These oral tissues can become infected when an overwhelming amount of oral bacteria sticks to the teeth’s surface and forms plaque. With time, plaque becomes rock-hard tartar that requires special tools to remove. The bacteria contained in plaque and tartar attack the gums, leading to the first stage of periodontal disease, which involves gingivitis (i.e., inflammation and infection of the gums). The infection then may travel deeper, and affect the cementum (i.e., the root surface covering), the periodontal ligament that attaches the tooth root to the bone, and the alveolar bone. As these surrounding tissues become infected, your pet develops severe pain, and may lose teeth.

Left untreated, dental disease can affect your pet’s entire body. Oral bacteria seeds into the bloodstream through inflamed gums, and travels to the major organs. Oral bacteria that latch onto heart valves can cause heart disease, and also attack the kidneys and cause disease.

Are some pets more at risk for dental disease?

Any pet can develop dental disease, but some pets are more prone to oral health issues. Genetics and anatomical features can cause your pet to develop more severe dental disease at an early age, and also increase the progression rate. Pets who are more likely to have dental health problems include:

  • Toy- and small-breed dogs (e.g., Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, dachshunds)
  • Greyhounds
  • Flat-faced breeds (e.g., pugs, bulldogs, Persian cats)
  • Cats with immune disorders or kidney disease

Therefore, although any pet can develop dental disease, if you have a small-breed dog or flat-faced pet, they should have their oral health monitored frequently by our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital veterinarian.

What are dental disease signs in pets?

Bad breath—often considered normal “doggy breath”—actually signals dental disease, and is likely the only sign that pet owners notice, since pets typically refuse to eat only when their disease is severe. Other dental disease signs you may see in your pet that warrant veterinary care include:

  • Brown, yellow, or gray plaque and tartar accumulation on the teeth
  • Red, irritated, or bleeding gums
  • Cracked, chipped, or worn teeth
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Dropping food while eating
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Pawing or rubbing at the face
  • Being head shy
  • Refusing to eat hard treats or food

By the time you notice your pet refusing food or their chew toys, their dental disease needs immediate attention. Closely monitor their oral health by checking their teeth and gums weekly.

How will I know if my pet has dental disease?

Our veterinary team will assess your pet’s oral health during their physical exam. Some pets may not appreciate their mouth being examined and will need sedation, or general anesthesia if dental X-rays are required. Typically, we will see dental disease signs during a wellness exam, and then schedule a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment (COHAT) for your pet. While your pet is under anesthesia for their dental cleaning and polishing, we perform a thorough oral exam, note any issues, and fix the problems. Doing all these tasks at once minimizes your pet’s stress and pain, and also the number of times they need sedation or anesthesia. 

How can I take care of my pet’s oral health at home?

To prevent dental disease from progressing, veterinary dental care needs to be combined with at-home care. Your at-home dental care can reduce the number of professional dental cleanings your furry pal will need, and prolong the time between cleanings, thereby minimizing their likelihood of infection from oral bacteria, and pain. When creating your plan, the following methods are most effective for reducing plaque and tartar accumulation:

  • Brush your pet’s teeth daily.
  • Incorporate food and water additives in your pet’s diet.
  • Give your pet dental treats and chews.
  • Choose only dental products accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
  • Consider switching to a prescription dental diet.

Don’t let your four-legged friend suffer in silence from painful dental disease. Contact our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team, to schedule your pet’s oral health exam.