Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats.  It starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gum line can easily be seen and removed, but plaque and tartar below the gum line is damaging and sets the stage for infection and damage to the jawbone and the tissues that connect the tooth to the jaw bone. Periodontal disease is graded on a scale of 0 (normal) to 4 (severe).  Early detection and treatment are critical, because advanced periodontal disease can cause severe problems and pain for your pet. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth. Other health problems found in association with periodontal disease include kidney, liver, and heart muscle changes. Veterinary dentistry includes the cleaning, adjustment, filing, extraction, or repair of your pets’ teeth and all other aspects of oral health care.  Oral health is a very important part of your pet’s overall health. Although cavities are less common in pets than in people, they do have many of the same dental issues as humans, such as broken teeth or root, periodontal disease (gingivitis), abscesses and infection, tumors, or jaw defects.  Your pet’s teeth and gums should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian to check for early signs of periodontal disease and other oral complications.

During an oral exam of your pet’s mouth, the veterinarian can observe and measure tarter and plaque calculus and gauge erosion and inflammation associated with gingivitis; however, because most dental disease occurs below the gum line where you can’t see it, a thorough dental cleaning and evaluation are performed under anesthesia.  The American Veterinary Dental College does not recommend dental cleanings without anesthesia.  Anesthesia makes it possible to perform the dental procedures with less stress and pain for your pet. In addition, anesthesia allows for a better cleaning because your pet is not moving around and risking injury from the dental equipment. Although anesthesia will always have risks, it’s safer now than ever and continues to improve so that the risks are very low and are far outweighed by the benefits. Most pets can go home the same day of the procedure, although they might seem a little groggy for the rest of the day.

Prevention of the most common oral disease in pets consists of frequent removal of the dental plaque and tartar that forms on teeth that are not kept clean.  Aside from regular dental cleanings at your veterinarian, daily brushing of your pet’s teeth can be an effective way to keep their teeth healthy between dental cleanings.   There are also many pet products marketed with claims that they improve dental health, but not all of them are effective. Talk with your veterinarian about any dental products, treats, or dental-specific diets you’re considering for your pet, or ask your veterinarian for their recommendation.

By Carly Perry, City Veterinary Hospital, Tulsa Oklahoma

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Love, The PetsWell Team

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