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Posted on 12-10-2014

Periodontal Disease (Dental Disease)

Most of us understand the importance of clean teeth and a healthy mouth.  We sometimes forget that it’s just as important for our pets to receive dental care.  Periodontal disease is the most common abnormality seen in our patients.  This is a disease of the gingiva and tissues surrounding the teeth.  More than 85% of cats and dogs over the age of 4 are affected by this preventable condition.

Although we can see tartar on our pet’s teeth, the real cause of periodontal disease is the spread of bacteria, plaque and calculus under the gum line where it cannot be seen.  The spread under the gum line destroys tissue and bone that results in inflammation, infection, tooth loss, pain and more.  Bad breath, gingivitis and tartar are clear signs of health concerns in the mouth, but only radiographs (x-rays) of the teeth can detect many dental abnormalities.  Many times the mouth and teeth can look normal from the outside but show clear evidence of disease and damage on radiographs

In addition to keeping the mouth and teeth healthy, dental cleanings and care are important in keeping your pet’s heart, liver, kidneys, bone and blood healthy.  Chronic inflammation in the mouth and release of bacteria or toxins into the blood can cause damage to organs, cause bone fractures, or even result in sepsis (blood infection).  There is clear evidence that appropriate dental care improves pet’s health, longevity, and quality of life.  There is also more and more evidence that pets with an underlying health condition (diabetes, auto-immune disease) are better controlled when they have a healthy mouth.

Dental care at home is a broad subject and the best tools to keep a pet’s mouth healthy will vary from pet to pet.  Tooth brushing, when done daily, is the best and most reliable method to keep a mouth healthy.  Certainly not every pet is tolerant of this method.  Getting your pet accustomed to tooth brushing as a puppy or kitten helps improve acceptance.  For pets that do not respond well to tooth brushing, or if your lifestyle does not accommodate the daily cleanings, then other products like antiseptic rinses, water additives, dental chews, and dental care diets can be rewarding.  Finding the products that your pet tolerates and that you are able to use on a regular basis takes some time, but helps ensure you’re providing the best home care for your pet.

Just like people, a pet will need professional cleanings, dental radiographs and assessments over the course of their life.  Being pro-active at home can help reduce the frequency of cleaning, but more importantly reduces the chance of periodontal disease developing.  It also greatly improves the health and quality of life for your pet.  Remember, many conditions in the mouth cannot be identified by examining from the outside.  Anesthetizing your pet to perform full mouth x-rays is an important part of their dental exam and assessment.  Also remember that early (Stage 1 & 2) dental disease is reversible with appropriate treatment & cleaning, but that more advanced stages (3 & 4) result in permanent damage & tooth loss.

Finding the best dental care products for your pet can be challenging and not all products provide the same benefit.  Ask the veterinary team which products may be best for your pet given their unique needs and sensitivities.  Our veterinarians assess your pet’s mouth during every wellness examination and will let you know if a professional cleaning is needed.  Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

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