Getting to the Root of Dental Disease: Periodontal Disease in Cats and Dogs

Dental care is a crucial part of cat and dog wellness care, because of the very high prevalence of periodontal disease in our pets. In fact, most cats and dogs have significant dental disease by the age of three.

Pain, tooth loss and possible systemic effects are consequences of periodontal disease. Prevention requires daily (ideally twice daily) brushing. After a meal, bacteria and food (fuel for bacteria) form a paste called plaque on the tooth and under the gumline. If allowed to stay on the tooth, this will combine with mineral salts to form a hard and tightly adherent substance called calculus (tartar). As calculus develops under the gumline, it will cause inflammation due to bacteria and destruction of the structures that support the tooth.

The tooth roots are embedded in the periodontal ligament and bone. As deterioration progresses and the pockets under the gum line get deeper, the bacterial populations become more numerous and harmful. You can smell the progressive worsening in odor (halitosis) and see the reddening of the gum.

What is not visible is the pain your pet suffers, as well as the loss of tooth stability. The end stage of periodontal disease is loss of the tooth. This can happen with or without obvious abscess formation and without obvious signs of pain from your pet. Because the periodontal space is highly vascularized, the inflammation can spread to the bloodstream and cause damage to the heart, liver and kidneys.

This highly detrimental process is what we are trying to prevent or slow down when we recommend dental care. Daily brushing is the best tool to prevent or slow down this disease. Dental chews and water additives are also helpful but are not as effective as brushing.

Once we diagnose periodontal disease, the next step is to perform a comprehensive dental cleaning and assessment. This procedure is done under general anesthesia and involves a deep scaling (ultrasonic cleaning) of each tooth, probing and charting of each tooth and radiographic (x-ray) assessment of the tooth roots and jawbone. Mild periodontal infections can be managed with scaling and brushing at home. Moderate periodontal infections can sometimes be managed with deep cleaning and the use of a long-acting topical antibiotic preparation that is applied into the periodontal space. Most severe periodontal infections will require dental extraction.

Your pet’s dental health should be assessed at least once a year as part of a wellness exam. We also recommend an examination if there is redness, swelling at the gum line, halitosis or discomfort.

Fortunately, dental disease can be prevented through annual cleanings performed by our highly skilled doctors and veterinary technicians. Call us today at (505) 265-4939 to make an appointment for your pet’s dental cleaning.