Dental disease is the most common health problem affecting pets, yet the condition often goes undiagnosed. Dental disease that is not treated can lead to serious issues, so our Colony Veterinary Hospital team wants to protect your pet’s oral and general health by explaining why professional veterinary dental cleanings are so necessary.

#1: Dental disease is prevalent in pets

Dental disease—more accurately called periodontal disease—is infection and inflammation of the periodontium (i.e., the tissues surrounding the tooth). Four tissues make up the periodontium, including the gingiva, cementum (i.e., tissue covering the root surface), periodontal ligament (i.e., ligament attaching the tooth root to the bone), and the alveolar bone. Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria in the mouth accumulate and invade under the gum line. The disease is extremely prevalent in pets, affecting 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by 3 years of age. 

#2: Dental disease can cause significant oral pain for pets

The inflammation and infection caused by periodontal disease can lead to significant discomfort and pain, such as:

  • Gingivitis — The first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis, which can cause your pet’s gums to swell and bleed.
  • Loose teeth — As periodontal disease advances, the teeth-supporting structures break down, leading to loose teeth that make chewing difficult. In addition, a lost tooth leaves a socket that can be sensitive and collect food material, causing further problems.
  • Tooth root abscess — If periodontal bacteria invade the cementum, an extremely painful tooth root abscess can form. If not addressed promptly, the abscess can rupture, creating a draining tract under your pet’s eye or in their jaw.

#3: Dental disease can cause nasal and ocular problems for pets

Your pet’s nasal passages and eyes are in close proximity to some tooth roots. Periodontal bacteria can migrate to these areas and cause problems, including:

  • Oronasal fistulas — If periodontal disease affecting the upper teeth migrates through the roof of the mouth, the result can be a communication between the mouth and nasal passage. This allows food and water to enter the nasal passage from the mouth, which causes chronic sinusitis, and may lead to respiratory infections.
  • Eye infection — Periodontal disease affecting the back upper teeth can migrate to the eye, leading to eye infection and possible blindness.

#4: Dental disease can cause systemic problems for pets

Pets affected by periodontal disease have large quantities of bacteria in their mouth and oral tissues that can enter the bloodstream and travel to other areas, such as:

  • Heart — Bacteria commonly found in the mouth are often isolated in pets with heart conditions, and pets with periodontal disease are considered at increased risk for heart disease.
  • Liver and kidneys — The liver and kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood, so are especially vulnerable to infection and damage when periodontal bacteria are in the bloodstream.

#5: Pets notoriously hide dental disease signs

Pets typically hide their vulnerabilities, such as discomfort and pain, to protect them from predators. You likely don’t have predators lurking behind your couch, but your pet retains this instinct from their ancestors, which can make detecting health complications, such as dental disease, difficult. Signs you may notice include:

  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling
  • Blood on your pet’s food or chew toys
  • Eating on only one side of the mouth
  • Behavior changes (e.g.,withdrawal, uncharacteristic irritability)

#6: Some dental lesions affecting pets are not visible

Most pet owners don’t routinely examine their pet’s mouth, but if they do, they likely still miss dental lesions that can’t be seen without X-rays. A professional veterinary dental cleaning includes dental X-rays, which are necessary to detect lesions, such as:

  • Bone loss — When bacteria invade bony tissue, the bone deteriorates and weakens. This bone loss can’t be detected on an oral examination.
  • Dead teeth — Infection and damage to the tooth root can cause the tooth to die, but the dead tooth can initially appear normal. X-rays help detect dead teeth before they cause further problems.
  • Bone fracture — Weakened bones can lead to jaw bone fractures, most commonly in cats and small-breed dogs.
  • Resorption lesions — Tooth resorption is a progressive disease that leads to tooth destruction, but lesions can’t be detected without dental X-rays.

#7: Pets don’t sit still for a thorough dental examination and cleaning

Your pet may be extremely well-behaved, but they will still need anesthesia for their mouth to be thoroughly examined and adequately cleaned. Anesthetizing your pet helps ensure they are not stressed during the procedure, and protects them from potential injury from the sharp instruments used to clean their teeth. In addition, anesthetizing your pet allows our team to thoroughly clean below your pet’s gum line, where the bacteria cause the most damage.

Most pets need a professional veterinary dental cleaning about once a year, but pets at increased dental disease risk (i.e., toy-breed dogs, senior pets, brachycephalic pets), may need more frequent cleanings. In addition to regular professional veterinary dental cleanings, at-home dental care, including daily toothbrushing and dental treats, is necessary to keep your pet’s mouth clean and healthy.

To schedule a professional veterinary dental cleaning for your pet, contact our Colony Veterinary Hospital team. We will help combat this serious, painful problem in your pet.