Let’s brush up on periodontal disease

 

Adult dogs have a total of 42 teeth and adult cats have a total of 30 teeth. A healthy mouth will consist of white teeth, pink gums and no bad breath. A healthy tooth will be white with a flat pink gum line. So why are many of our pets’ mouths are riddled with bacteria, plaque and tartar causing bad breath, disease and pain?

 

Plaque is a soft sticky film that builds on the teeth containing millions of bacteria. Plaque forms with ingredients found in your pet’s diet and saliva. Bacteria causing this plaque is constantly forming in the mouth. Plaque turns to tartar in 24 hours. 

Tartar is plaque that has hardened on the teeth. Tartar can also form at and beneath the gum line which is known as gingivitis, which causes irritation, redness and inflammation. Tartar gives plaque more area to grow by separating the gums from teeth, which can lead to more serious conditions such as periodontal disease. 

Periodontal disease is an infection of the structures around the teeth, which include the gums, ligaments and jaw bone. The whole mouth is very painful and puts your pet at greater risk for developing other serious conditions such as heart disease. 

 

There are four stages of periodontal disease.   

Stage 1- there is a mild buildup of plaque, slightly swollen and red gums. This is the first sign of pain. 

Stage 2- there is a moderate amount of plaque that builds up and starts turning into tartar. Gums become more swollen and red and nderneath the gum line gingivitis and possible bone loss are now occurring. 

Stage 3- tartar is now heavily accumulated on the teeth, gum line has receded causing pockets between the tooth and the gum line. Pain in the mouth is also greatly increased. 25-50% of bone loss beneath the gum line has occurred and tooth extractions are very likely. 

Stage 4- Periodontal disease is established and chronic. There is severe tartar buildup, inflammation, gum recession, bleeding, deep pockets and possible tooth mobility. More than 50% of bone loss has occurred beneath the gum line. Mouth is extremely painful and extractions are necessary. 

 

Use this link to grade your own pet’s periodontal disease and learn more: 

http://avdc.org/AFD/five-stages-of-pet-periodontal-disease/

 

Periodontal disease progresses due to age, health status, diet, chewing behavior, breed, genetics, tooth alignment, home care and mouth environment. Small breed dogs are at a higher risk due to having the same amount of teeth as large breed dogs but in a much smaller package. 

So now that you know the facts, what can you do to prevent this harmful, painful disease?

 

Regular home care such as daily brushing, routine dental cleanings and diet can all help prevent or slow plaque, tartar, gingivitis and, in turn, periodontal disease. Here is a helpful video to show you how to brush your dog’s teeth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsNlLLSBWLU

Be sure to use a soft bristled toothbrush or a toothbrush designed for pets and always use a toothpaste designed for pets. Human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed and can be toxic to your pet!

Feel free to call or drop by the clinic if you would like advice or a demonstration!

What else can you do?

Daily brushing is the best way to prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar and consequently gingivitis and periodontal disease. There are, however, other things you can do to assist with this. Using Greenies dental treats daily is a great way to help your pet clean off plaque. Contrary to some popular beliefs rawhides and hard bones do not do anything to help with dental care. There are also specific dental diets that can be mixed in with your pet’s regular food to help remove plaque on a daily basis. Ask your veterinarian which diet they recommend or have in stock. Starting non-anesthetic dental cleanings early and often with your pet will also help greatly as a preventive method against dental disease. 

 

So what’s the deal with professional non-anesthetic dental cleaning?

 

The truth is, it depends on the pet, the condition of the teeth, and on the company providing the service. We use a great company with trained, highly skilled hygienists every few months that comes into our clinic under the supervision of a veterinarian to perform non-anesthetic dentals on pets that we deem are good candidates. Their website answers many questions about their procedure: http://petdentalservices.com/faqs.php 

 

We like to use this service as part of a preventative regimen for young pets that have not developed periodontal disease yet. These pets should get a non-anesthetic dental as often as is possible (physically and financially) for owners whether that be every six months or every year. These cleanings may also be an option for older pets that are absolutely not suitable candidates for anesthesia. Examples of pets who are poor candidates for non-anesthetic dental include pets with: severe gingivitis, cavities, fractured teeth or painful inflammation. Whenever the technicians discover a loose or fractured tooth, gum disease, tumors, epuli, abscess or any other condition that necessitates a doctor’s intervention, they are quick to bring it to the attending vet’s attention. These pets will need an anesthetic dental cleaning and corrective procedures, but we try to evaluate this need before we schedule a non-anesthetic dental cleaning.


While all of these preventive measures are helpful, regular anesthetic veterinary dental cleanings are important to your pet. We, humans, go to the dentist every six months to have our teeth professionally cleaned and we’re brushing our teeth twice a day (or should be)! Our pets’ teeth need the same attention; unfortunately they don’t usually like to sit still for it. 


Anesthetic dentals are far safer than they ever have been in the past due to the great advances in veterinary medicine. Before any anesthetic procedure, your pet will have a blood profile run checking the complete blood count and overall organ functions, such as the kidney, liver, and gall bladder. A pre-anesthetic exam by the doctor will also be done checking the heart and lungs. An ECG screening may also by required if previous or new heart conditions are present. IV catheters are placed as an easily accessible port for anesthetics, fluids during the procedure, and possible emergency medications if needed. Anesthetic monitoring has advanced greatly as well. A monitor is used throughout the procedure to measure heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation level, blood pressure, and temperature. Warming blankets and/or heating pads are now used to prevent hypothermia during procedures. 


Anesthetic related deaths have decreased significantly over the years due to these advancements and new protocols in veterinary medicine. According to a board certified anesthesiologist today, the anesthetic death rate is 1 in 1000 animals. 


An anesthetic dentistry is the only treatment for stages 3 and 4 of periodontal disease. Heavy plaque and tartar need to be removed with an ultra-sonic scaler, deep cleaning beneath the gum line, extractions and x-rays to check the status of the teeth, bone, and jaw structure.

 

Recovery depends on the stage of periodontal disease. Stages 1 and 2 will require little to no recovery time, usually just a course of antibiotics and possibly pain medication for a few days. Stages 3 and 4 will require more recovery time and a more involved process. Antibiotics and pain medications will be required, softening of the food for a certain amount of time, sometimes permanently, may also be required. 

 

 

Your pet’s dental procedure daily brushing is the only tried-and-true method to help prevent further damage to your pet’s mouth, but as discussed earlier there are several other options and additives to assist with continuing care and maintenance. A happy healthy mouth means a healthy happy pet.


Periodontal disease is the most common disease in cats and dogs and it is entirely preventable. Thank you for taking the time to read this post and we hope you now understand the seriousness of this problem and begin, or continue, to take steps to help your pet maintain a healthy mouth and a healthy life.