Dental disease affects more than 85% of cats and dogs over the age of three and often goes unnoticed in the early stages. This is why during a physical exam the veterinarian always examines the teeth and gums and makes recommendations to maintain your pet’s oral health.
Dental disease starts with plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, saliva and food particles that accumulate on the surface of the tooth. If not removed, calcium can bind to plaque and this is what creates tartar. Next, gingivitis (red/swollen gums) develops which then can progress underneath the gum causing an infection that damages the tissues connecting the tooth to the bone. This leads to bad breath, loose teeth, abnormal chewing, reduced appetite, pain in the mouth, bleeding gums and sometimes swellings in the areas surrounding the mouth.
Dental Disease is One of the Most Common Problems in Cats and Dogs
Dogs have 42 teeth. Smaller breeds with pushed in noses and genetically shortened jaws have this many teeth crowded into a small area. This crowding leads to periodontal disease. Medium and large dogs have more space between their teeth contributing to the normal self cleaning mechanisms of the teeth and therefore are not as prone to severe dental disease. Larger dogs are not immune to dental issues however and commonly we see broken teeth from chewing very hard materials such as rocks, bones or antlers.
Cats have 30 teeth. Cat dental disease is most commonly seen as tooth resorption lesions (cavities) and gingivitis. Dental disease is usually diagnosed during the physical exam because they will still eat and otherwise seem normal to owners despite having severe disease. The most common sign of mouth pain in cats is dropping food during eating. It is only after the problem teeth have been removed that owners notice changes for the better in their pet’s personality and energy level.
We Provide Professional Cleaning
We anesthetize your pet for a thorough cleaning which includes scaling (removing plaque and tartar) above and below the gumline and polishing the teeth, similar to the process we undergo with our own teeth. Then a dental evaluation is performed and x-rays are taken to determine the extent of periodontal disease. Treatment of any diseased teeth will be determined by the stage of periodontal disease present.
Stage 0: Plaque on teeth with very little or no gingivitis. This stage is reversible with home care such as toothbrushing, dental diets and approved dental chews. If home care is successful the pet may not need a professional cleaning.
Stage 1: Gums are red with plaque covering the teeth. This stage is reversible with professional cleaning and home care
Stage 2: All the gums are pink and swollen. Bad breath is present and there is pain. At this stage professional cleaning and home care can prevent this from becoming irreversible.
Stage 3: Gums are now bright red and bleeding. Infection and tartar are damaging the gums and starting to destroy the attachment of the teeth to the bone. The pet’s breath is consistently bad and its mouth is sore.These changes are irreversible and professional cleaning and dental treatments are necessary such as removal of teeth and root cleanings to keep as many teeth as possible for the pet.
Stage 4: Chronic infection has destroyed the gums, teeth and bone. There are loose or missing teeth. Bacteria have spread from the mouth to the rest of the body and can affect major organs such as heart, liver and kidneys. This is the worst stage and usually all of the affected teeth have to be extracted.
The Necessity for Anesthesia
Anesthetic is required because pets do not understand the benefit of dental procedures and react by moving, trying to escape or even biting, all of which are detrimental to obtaining a thorough map of your pets dental issues and performing any treatments needed. We all wish that pets would sit very still and open wide for us to examine their teeth, clean them and perform any treatments necessary but this is not the case.
We are advocates for prevention, which includes regular toothbrushing and yearly dental checkups. Brushing your pet’s teeth every day will reduce the plaque and tartar that accumulates on their teeth, helping save them from unnecessary pain and extending the time between professional cleanings.
Anesthetic Free Dental Cleanings
Anesthetic free dental cleanings do a disservice to the pet – the teeth look clean on the surface but the disease process at or below the gumline has not been taken care of. This is when we see what appears to be clean teeth on the surface but they are loose or have infection under the gumline that can progress to an abscess(pocket of infection) in the jaw or teeth that fall out.