Our small animal patients (dogs and cats) commonly present with problems related to their oral health. For instance, dropping food, drooling excessively, bleeding from the gums, halitosis (bad breath), chewing on one side or the other, decreased appetite, decreased weight, and being head shy can all be signs of oral disease. 

Up to 80% of dogs and cats over the age of 3y have periodontal disease. This is a process that starts with inflammation of the gum tissue (gingivitis) progressing to attachment loss of the surrounding soft and hard structures. This can be a painful process that predisposes to infection. 

Periodontal disease begins with a layer of plaque that builds up on the surface of the tooth from naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth. This plaque then mixes with minerals in saliva leading to calcification creating “calculus” or the hard brown substance on dog’s teeth. In time, the bacteria, plaque and calculus spread under the gum line leading to a reaction from the immune system.  Progressive inflammation leads to attachment loss, deep pocketing, formation of abscesses, and tooth mobility. Treatments like anesthesia free dentistry only address the plaque and calculus above the gum line, leaving owners with a false sense of dental health. The real issue is beneath the gum line, where attachment loss begins. 

Each animal’s response to bacteria in the mouth is different. We do not know which animal’s immune system will create an issue and a severe periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the tooth). What we do know is that regular dental cleanings and daily at home oral care can help prevent this progression of periodontal disease. At your annual exam, your veterinarian should be able to tell you if your pet is in need of a dental cleaning. This requires general anesthesia to take dental x-rays, chart the mouth to look for pockets indicating soft and hard tissue loss, and a cleaning above and below the gum line. At that time, any necessary extractions or additional treatments may be performed. Daily or every other day brushing at home with a soft bristled pediatric toothbrush and veterinary approved toothpaste will help decrease the accumulation of plaque and slow the progression of periodontal disease. 

You pet may not be amenable to tooth brushing. There are other options for at home oral care including dental diets, dental treats and chews, and a variety of rinses/sprays/gels. The goal of all at home oral care is to decrease the accumulation of plaque and calculus. Ask your veterinarian if your pet is not compliant for tooth brushing about other options for at home oral care. 

We encourage all pets to have annual exams and a thorough oral exam. Oral health will help promote good overall health and help your pet living a happy healthy life. 

If you have questions regarding your pet’s oral health, please call your local VCA veterinarian for more information.