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According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats are affected by periodontal disease by the age of three.
Modern veterinary medicine addresses dental disease early in its progression and helps pets live longer, healthier, happier lives. Periodontal disease is common, but it can easily be treated by well-equipped and well-trained veterinary hospitals.
Periodontal disease is defined as the infection or inflammation of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Periodontal disease follows a very predictable pathway in pets as it does in humans. The mouth is a place that is full of bacteria. We as humans brush, floss, and rinse away these bacteria 2-3 times daily, and the bacteria continue to build up quickly. In pets, without at home dental care periodontal disease progresses rapidly. Soon the bacteria create plaque and calculus, creating an effective hiding place for the bacteria. At this point in the periodontal disease pathway the gums become inflamed and reddened. This painful condition is known as gingivitis. The bacteria will often then start to move up the tooth root, loosening and eventually killing the tooth. Often this process creates a tooth root abscess. In some cases the tooth eventually falls out. We know from human medicine this is a very painful process. Large amounts of bacteria living under calculus and in abscesses can spread bacteria through the bloodstream to other organs such as the heart, kidneys, and the liver.
Regular dental cleanings are extremely important to the health of your pet. The veterinary team will remove calculus, clean under the gum line, and polish your pet’s teeth. Dental radiographs (x-rays) should be taken to detect changes in the structures under the gum line or inside teeth. In more advanced cases of periodontal disease it is sometimes necessary to treat abscesses with long lasting antibiotic gels, systemic antibiotics or with the removal of infected teeth.
In pets, complete dental cleanings should be performed under anesthesia for several reasons. It is impossible to perform a thorough job while the pet is moving and awake. Secondly, it is important to keep the massive amount of bacteria in the mouth from entering the lungs. During anesthesia a balloon is inflated in the trachea to prevent pneumonia. If vital signs of the patient are monitored while performing anesthesia, the procedure becomes much safer and the risk of complication if significantly decreased.
If you notice bad breath, yellow/brown or black tartar, reddened gums, or loose tooth, visit your veterinarian for an exam. Your veterinarian can recommend treatment, and then show you how to provide at home dental care to prevent periodontal disease in the future. Common at-home dental care includes regular brushing, dental rinses, specific types of chewable treats, and certain types of food. Consumers should look for the Veterinary Oral Heath Council (VOHC) seal of approval when shopping for products to help prevent periodontal disease.