Periodontal disease is the most prevalent ailment of dogs and cats. In fact, more than 85% of dogs and cats over 4 years of age have some degree of periodontal disease! It starts out as a bacterial film called plaque, which eventually hardens into tartar. Tartar build-up on the animal’s teeth initially causes bad breath; however, if left untreated, this will progress into a disease process that leads to tooth decay, tooth loss, pain, bleeding gums, and the growth of harmful bacteria. This bacteria then spreads throughout your pet’s body, leading to damage of the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver.

When should you be concerned about your pet’s dental health?  Any of the following symptoms can be an indicator of periodontal disease, and warrant a visit to the veterinarian:

  • Bad breath
  • Yellowing teeth/tartar build-up
  • Bleeding or swollen gums
  • Broken teeth
  • Reluctance to eat, loss of appetite, or dropping food from the mouth
  • Pawing at the face or mouth
  • Drooling (especially in cats)
  • Chronic sneezing or abnormal nasal discharge
  • A lump or swelling anywhere on the jaw or under the eye
  • Frequent eye infections
  • Unexplained discharge from the eyes
  • Increased aggression or grouchiness

Many of these symptoms indicate that your pet is in pain – even if they don’t whine or yelp – and you should make an appointment to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

There are many ways that you can help to maintain your pet’s oral health at home (see below,) but once tartar builds up on the teeth, the only way to take care of the problem is for your pet to have a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia. Our specially trained, licensed veterinary technicians use veterinary dental instruments that produce ultrasonic vibrations to break up the stubborn tartar on your cat’s or dog’s teeth. The area below the gum line is cleaned with a hand-scaler. Cleaning is followed by polishing, and then a dental sealant is applied; this helps to prevent plaque-forming bacteria from adhering to the teeth. Anesthetic is required for your pet’s dental procedure in order to ensure a thorough, pain-free examination and dental cleaning; without anesthetic, it isn’t possible to clean the inside surfaces of your pet’s teeth, or under the gums where periodontal disease develops. While your pet is under anesthesia, its vital signs (including body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration) are constantly monitored and recorded.

The veterinary technician will probe all of your pet’s teeth to look for pockets into the gum line, which indicates more serious disease. The technician will evaluate each tooth, looking for any evidence of fractures, nerve exposure, or decay. If there is evidence of any of these abnormalities, digital dental x-rays will be recommended to determine the health of the teeth’s structure below the gums.

Our digital dental x-ray machine

We provide a state-of-the-art digital dental radiography (x-ray) service for our patients, so that any underlying abnormalities, changes in bone density, fractures, or infection in your pet’s mouth can be detected. Dental x-rays will also allow us to confirm the need for tooth extraction when teeth are loose or badly infected.  The technician will take the x-rays, which will then be reviewed by the veterinarian. If any abnormalities or diseased teeth are confirmed, the veterinarian will contact you to discuss recommended treatment or tooth extractions. If any teeth need to be pulled, the veterinarian will perform the extractions. For more information about our professional dental services, read our blog post: What Happens When My Pet Goes to the Vet for a Dental?


Dental Home-care Recommendations

There are a variety of things that you can do for your pet at home to slow down the process of tartar buildup on its teeth:

OraVet® Plaque Prevention Gel
OraVet® is a barrier sealant that helps protect the teeth and gums from plaque and tartar buildup which is caused by bacteria. The sealant is odorless, tasteless, and invisible once applied. The barrier sealant application is included in all of our dentals. However, to maintain that protective barrier we recommend applying the Plaque Prevention Gel at home once every week. The gel is easily applied to the gum line of your pet in less than a minute! This simple step will help reduce the bacteria in your pet’s mouth, which will cut down on bad breath and extend the time between professional cleanings.

You can brush your pet’s teeth at home using a finger toothbrush or a 2″ x 2: gauze pad. Our hospital sells finger brushes, gauze pads and toothpaste especially formulated for dogs and cats.  Do not use human toothpaste! Human toothpaste contains ingredients that can upset your pet’s stomach; some of these toothpastes even contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.  To get your pet used to the idea of having its teeth brushed, start out by wetting your finger and gently rubbing the animal’s teeth in a circular motion. Then you can gradually introduce the finger brush, followed by the brush with pet toothpaste. For the best results, you should brush your pet’s teeth once a day to provide good dental preventative care.

This is a drinking water additive that helps to maintain your pet’s oral health while reducing the sources of bad breath.

C.E.T.® HEXtra® Premium Oral Hygiene Chews for Dogs
This is a treat that is formulated to remove plaque and tartar. It can be used in addition to brushing or using a water additive. The combination of chlorhexidine – an effective anti-plaque antiseptic – with the mechanical action of the chew helps to reduce plaque and tartar when used daily.  These chews are available in Petite, Medium, Large and Extra Large sizes.

MAXI/GUARD® Oral Cleansing Gel
This product does not require brushing. It is applied directly to your pet’s gums. Saliva carries the gel across the teeth, taking away plaque as it goes. Maxi/Guard is also a good product to use after brushing, in order to reduce plaque accumulation.

MAXI/GUARD® Oral Cleansing Wipes 
These oral wipes are infused with a unique zinc formulation, and are great for pets who are reluctant to accept having their teeth brushed. The taste-free compound neutralizes offensive mouth odors, helps reduce the deposition of plaque and helps reduce gingival inflammation. The wipes are gently textured to assist in the mechanical removal of plaque. They should be used daily for best results.  All you have to do is wrap a wipe around your index finger, then gently wipe the teeth and gums on both sides of the pet’s mouth: that’s it! The manufacturer recommends that the product be stored upside down for a perfectly moist wipe for each application.

This is a treat made to help keep your pet’s teeth clean and fresh. These treats are best used in conjunction with one of the other products listed above.

Proper Nutrition
Proper nutrition for your pet is a must to ensure good oral hygiene, and good health in general.  Dry food (kibble) will help prevent tartat buildup to some extent, and there are some products – such as Hill’s Science Diet T/D – that are specially formulated and composed for tartar control.

There are many other products available for dogs and cats that can help to maintain good oral health and slow the buildup of plaque and tartar on their teeth. Always look for products that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal. VOHC authorizes the use of the VOHC Registered Seal on products that have met the council’s standards for effectiveness in retarding plaque and tartar when used as directed.