Dental disease doesn’t affect only your pet’s mouth. Left untreated, periodontal bacteria can cause significant organ damage, but appropriate dental care can affect your pet’s overall wellbeing and increase their longevity. Our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team is concerned about your pet’s dental health, so we are providing information about this topic and explaining how you can safeguard your pet from this dangerous condition.

Pet dental disease

Food material left in your pet’s mouth after a meal or treat attracts bacteria, which accumulate on teeth to form plaque. If not removed, mineral salts that precipitate from saliva cause the plaque to harden into a gritty substance called tartar, which irritates the gingival tissue and allows bacteria to invade under the gum line. Dental (i.e.,periodontal) disease progresses in the following stages:

  • Grade 0 — A healthy pet’s mouth has no evidence of disease—gums are glossy pink and well-attached to the teeth. 
  • Grade 1 — Gingivitis is considered first-stage periodontal disease. Infection causes the gingival inflammation, but no supporting structures of the teeth are lost.
  • Grade 2 — As the bacteria invade under the gum line, the tooth’s supporting structures are damaged. Periodontal disease is rated as Grade 2 when the damage involves less than 25% of the supporting structures.
  • Grade 3 — Periodontal disease is rated as Grade 3 when 25% to 50% of the supporting structures are lost.
  • Grade 4 — Periodontal disease is rated as a Grade 4 when greater than 50% of the supporting structures are lost. Teeth in this stage typically can’t be salvaged and require extraction.

Pet dental disease signs

Pets are notorious for hiding illness and pain and, in many cases, a pet affected by dental disease exhibits no outward signs. When present, dental disease signs may include:

  • Halitosis — Bad breath is the most common dental disease sign. Periodontal bacteria produce bad-smelling compounds that cause your pet’s breath to smell bad.
  • Excessive drooling — Irritation in the mouth caused by periodontal bacteria can result in excessive drooling.
  • Bleeding — Inflamed gingiva often bleeds, especially when your pet chews. You may notice blood on your pet’s food or chew toys.
  • Discolored teeth — Diseased teeth are often discolored, and you may notice your pet’s teeth aren’t white if you lift their lip.
  • Abnormal behavior — Pets experiencing oral pain may exhibit behavioral changes such as decreased appetite and social interaction, or uncharacteristic irritability or aggression.

Pet dental disease oral complications

In addition to bad breath and unattractive teeth, pet dental disease can cause oral complications, including:

  • Loose teeth — As bacteria break down the tooth’s supporting structures, the tooth loosens, causing pain when your pet chews. If the tooth is lost, the empty socket can lead to further problems.
  • Tooth root abscesses — A tooth root abscess can develop if bacteria invade the sensitive tissue, which is extremely painful. In some cases, the abscess ruptures, creating an open wound in your pet’s face or jaw.
  • Jaw fractures — Bone deteriorates when bacteria invade bony tissue, potentially fracturing the jaw.
  • Oral cancer — The chronic irritation from periodontal disease may increase your pet’s oral cancer risk.

Pet dental disease health complications

Pet dental disease can cause issues outside your pet’s mouth, including:

  • Eye infection — Since some tooth roots are close to your pet’s eyes, infection and inflammation can invade the area, leading to eye infections.
  • Oronasal fistula — Periodontal bacteria can penetrate the roof of the mouth, creating an opening called an oronasal fistula. This allows food and saliva to enter the nasal cavity and  leads to chronic sinusitis and potentially pneumonia.
  • Heart disease — Periodontal bacteria are the same bacteria implicated in certain heart conditions, such as endocarditis and valvular disease. Pets with dental disease are considered at higher heart disease risk.
  • Kidney and liver disease — Periodontal bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. Since the kidneys and liver filter the blood, these organs are at high risk for injury from the pathogens.

Pet dental disease prevention

Fortunately, pet dental disease can be prevented. Ways you can safeguard your four-legged friend include:

  • Professional veterinary dental cleanings — Regular professional dental cleanings assess your pet’s oral health, address any complications, and thoroughly clean your pet’s teeth and under the gum line. Most pets need a professional dental cleaning once a year, but if you have a high risk pet, such as a toy-breed dog or brachycephalic pet, we may recommend more frequent visits.
  • Toothbrushing — Daily toothbrushing is recommended to remove plaque from your pet’s teeth between professional dental cleanings. Use a veterinary enzymatic toothpaste and a pet-friendly toothbrush or finger brush.
  • Water additives — These products can help maintain good oral health and freshen your pet’s breath.
  • Dental chews — Dental treats and chews that contain enzymes that help loosen tartar and prevent plaque are great to use after brushing, or on days when brushing isn’t convenient.
  • Dental support pet food — Food specially formulated to support your pet’s dental health can reduce plaque, stains, and tartar buildup. Ask our team if a veterinary prescribed dental diet is right for your pet.

Your pet’s dental health is extremely important to their overall wellbeing. Contact our Heritage Veterinary Clinic to schedule a professional veterinary dental cleaning, so we can ensure your cuddle time with your pet isn’t disturbed by smelly breath.