If you never brushed your teeth, or only brushed them at the hair salon, your oral health would be in desperate shape. Considering that this scenario is accurate for most dogs and cats, you can easily see why 80 percent show periodontal disease signs by age 3. Don’t let this condition sneak up on your pet—partner with Wales Animal Clinic and take proactive steps to ensure their oral health.
Defining periodontal disease in pets
Periodontal disease is a progressive oral condition caused by plaque and tartar accumulation below the gum line. The hidden bacteria damage the tooth’s supporting structures, resulting in pain, infection, and inflammation, and ultimately bone and tooth loss. In severe cases, circulating bacteria enter the bloodstream, and permanently damage the kidneys, liver, and heart muscle.
Recognizing periodontal disease in pets
Many pets with early dental disease look and behave normally, and owners can easily miss the condition. Pets with later stage disease may instinctively hide their pain or show only subtle signs, such as:
- Bad breath
- Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
- Altered chewing or eating habits
- Reluctance to play
- Pawing or rubbing the face
Your pet’s veterinarian will perform an awake oral assessment at each routine visit, to check for tartar, plaque, and gingivitis. Unfortunately, since periodontal disease lives below the gum line, visible signs tell only part of the story, so your pet should begin receiving regular dental cleanings under anesthesia before noticeable signs occur. Prompt veterinary intervention and follow-up home care can halt, delay, or minimize periodontal disease progression.
Treatment for periodontal disease in pets
Periodontal disease treatment at Wales Animal Clinic begins with a thorough dental cleaning and X-rays while your pet is anesthetized. Anesthesia is necessary to provide a comfortable and safe experience for your pet, and to allow us to take X-rays and clean each tooth above and below the gum line. Every dental cleaning includes four steps:
- Scaling — Your pet’s teeth are individually cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler, to remove plaque, tartar, and bacteria above and below the gum line.
- Polishing — Polishing removes any abrasion caused by the scaling process.
- Dental probing — All sides of each tooth are measured for gingival pockets, or gaps between the tooth and gum, that indicate disease.
- Dental X-rays — These provide the veterinarian with a detailed image of each tooth, its roots, pulp chamber, and the surrounding bone.
Our veterinarian will combine their visual examination with your pet’s X-rays to accurately stage their periodontal disease from 0 to 4. The degree of bone loss will determine if your pet needs dental extractions (i.e., tooth removal). If feasible, another treatment (e.g., subgingival antibiotics, or an advanced restorative procedure) will be used to save the affected teeth. However, dental extraction is often the kindest and fastest way to eliminate pain and improve quality of life.
Preventing periodontal disease in pets
Consistent home dental care is a proven and effective way to reduce periodontal disease severity. If started early in life, a dedicated home care program can prevent disease.
Discuss your pet’s oral health with their veterinarian before undertaking any new home care program. Periodontal disease that is already present may need to be addressed with professional treatment before home care can be effective and pain-free.
When you are ready to begin home care, try the following options, to find out what works best for you and your pet:
- Toothbrushing — Daily brushing with an enzymatic pet toothpaste approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) is the most effective way to prevent plaque and tartar. Do not use human toothpaste, which is dangerous for pets.
- Diet — Veterinary dental diets are dry foods with large nugget-sized kibble that require your pet to chew. The kibble design causes a scrubbing action on the tooth’s surface, removing plaque and tartar.
- Chews — Dental chews are a satisfying way for your dog to clean their teeth, especially if they do not tolerate brushing. Look for chews that carry the VOHC seal, and have slight give and flexibility. Avoid hard chews, such as bones, antlers, and yak chews, that can break teeth.
- Water additives — Add these products to your pet’s drinking water every day, to prevent plaque and reduce oral bacteria.
While these methods work best together, adding one home care item to your pet’s daily routine will significantly improve their oral health. Annual examinations and routine dental cleanings under anesthesia also should be lifelong, per your veterinarian’s recommendations. You may find that a strict home care routine allows you to safely extend the time between your pet’s cleanings.
Proactive care can protect your pet against the damaging effects of periodontal disease, and potentially add years to their life. Have your pet’s oral health evaluated by scheduling an appointment at Wales Animal Clinic.