Dental Health and Your Pet, Part One

By Kevin Wilson, DVM, Pilchuck’s Small-Animal Department

In our busy lives, most people forget to floss their own teeth every day, so it is unlikely that many people are checking their pets’ teeth regularly. However, did you know that about 80 percent of dogs and cats over 2 years of age have significant dental disease? Did you know that dental disease can affect your pet’s health, quality of life and length of life?

Dental disease 101:Dental disease is classified based on the severity of periodontal disease. Tartar is a visible sign of dental disease but is cosmetic; the true problem exists in and below the gumline. When bacteria adhere to the tooth surface and create plaque, the plaque will mineralize and form tartar. While brushing and proper dental hygiene can reduce bacteria and plaque, it is very difficult to safely remove tartar without a professional dental cleaning.

Once plaque and tartar are on a tooth, bacteria are able to migrate under the gumline, where they damage the gum’s attachment to the tooth and can begin to destroy the bone that surrounds the tooth root. This leads to pain, potential tooth loss, and even kidney, liver and heart problems if the bacteria get into the bloodstream. 

Grading periodontal disease:In veterinary medicine, periodontal disease is graded on a scale of 1 to 4.  Grade 1 means normal, pink and healthy gums with good attachment to the tooth. Grade 2: some gingivitis and minor bleeding when probed. Grade 3: severe gingivitis, significant bleeding when probed and some attachment loss of the gums to the tooth. Grade 4: severe gingivitis and bleeding, significant attachment loss and bone loss. 

Grade 2 periodontal disease is reversible. If the patient receives a professional oral exam and cleaning at this phase, the gingivitis will resolve.  Grades 3 and 4 are not reversible and likely will result in extractions and other oral surgery. Important to note is that Grades 3 and 4 also cause significant pain for your pet, even though they may not show it.

Signs of trouble:Recognizing dental disease in your pet is a very important part of keeping your pet healthy. Signs of dental disease are tartar, irritated or bleeding gums, foul breath, difficulty chewing, heavy drooling, and swelling of the face. If you have concerns, you should consult with your pet’s veterinarian. Also, at your pet’s regular veterinary visits, his or her mouth should be examined by the veterinarian for any concerns.

Pilchuck’s dental services include dental prophylaxis (cleaning), digital dental radiographs and, when necessary, oral surgery. Call 360.568.3113 for more information.

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