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Does your dog or cat have bad breath?  Can you see tartar?  Are there loose, missing, or broken teeth?  These are all signs of dental disease.  Dental disease is the most common disease of our dogs and cats.  Dogs and cats with dental disease may have bad breath, excessive salivation, bleeding of the gums, tooth grinding, or a change in appetite.  Many animals show no clinical signs of dental disease – your veterinarian may discover dental disease on routine examination.

The most common type of dental disease is periodontal disease, affecting 85% of dogs and cats over four years of age.  Periodontal disease includes any disease of the gingiva (gums) or disease of the deeper structures of the tooth such as the periodontal ligament or surrounding alveolar bone.  Periodontal disease begins with the formation of plaque, a clear adhesive fluid that contains mucin, cells, and bacteria.  If not removed, saliva and mineral salts in the food mix with the plaque and harden to form calculus (also known as tartar).  Calculus and bacteria irritate the gum tissue, leading to inflammation and swelling of the gums.  This stage of dental disease is called gingivitis.  Inflamed gums can then separate from the teeth, creating pockets between the tooth and gingiva.  Bacteria can be trapped in these pockets, leading to damage of the tooth’s support structures.  This stage of dental disease is called periodontitis and may ultimately lead to pain and tooth loss.

Dental disease can affect the entire body.  Bacteria from dental infections can enter the bloodstream and cause infections in other organs such as the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, or nervous system.  Such infections can be very severe and even life-threatening.

In addition to periodontal disease, more than 50% of cats over three years of age are afflicted by a special syndrome known as tooth resorption.  Teeth affected by this disease begin to develop erosions, generally near the gum line.  As the erosion progresses, the visible portion of the tooth will disappear and the root is resorbed and replaced by bone.  These lesions are also known as feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs), neck lesions, cavities, or cervical line lesions (CLLs).

What can be done to prevent severe dental disease?  Your pet should have a physical examination performed at least once per year.  During the physical examination, your veterinarian will examine your pet’s teeth and gums.  If your pet has evidence of dental disease, a professional dental cleaning may be recommended.

Anesthesia is required for professional dental cleaning.  Anesthesia allows the veterinarian to thoroughly clean each tooth, including the portion of the tooth that is under the gum line.  In addition, pets under anesthesia have a tube placed in the trachea that prevents bacteria and tartar from entering the respiratory tract.  We take every effort to provide safe anesthesia to each pet.  All patients are monitored with an EKG, a blood pressure machine, and a pulse oximeter during the procedure.  We recommend pre-surgical blood work in all patients prior to the procedure.

A professional dental cleaning includes a thorough examination of the teeth and gums, ultrasonic scaling of the tartar and plaque above the gum line, subgingival hand scaling (cleaning below the gum line), and polishing of the teeth.  If necessary, radiographs may be performed.  For diseased teeth, your veterinarian may recommend surgical extractions, gingivectomy, or periodontal treatment.  Oravet, a dental sealant, may be applied at the end of the dental procedure.

You can take an active role in maintaining your pet’s dental health at home.  Daily brushing is considered the gold standard.  Brushing removes the plaque before it can become tartar.  A variety of tooth brushes are available and toothpaste designed for dogs and cats can be purchased at your veterinary clinic – avoid using human toothpaste as it can be irritating if swallowed.  In addition to brushing, you may consider dental chew treats or diets specifically designed to improve dental health.

Contact your veterinarian today to discuss your pet’s dental health.  Your pet will thank you!

February is National Pet Dental Health Month.  During the month of February, we offer 10% off a professional dental cleaning for your dog or cat.  Call us today to schedule this important procedure for your pet.

Content prepared by St. Francis Animal and Bird Hospital, 1227 Larpenteur Ave. West, Roseville MN. 55113