Dental disease is one of the most common health problems in pets, but most don’t exhibit signs early. However, the condition can lead to serious consequences, so our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team wants to answer frequently asked questions about pet dental health to provide the information you need to ensure your pet gets the appropriate care.

Question: What are common dental problems seen in pets?

Answer: Pets can experience many of the same dental problems as people, but the most common issues include:

  • Periodontal disease — Periodontal disease in pets is extremely common, affecting approximately 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by 3 years of age. Bacterial deposits form plaque on your pet’s teeth, and these deposits harden into tartar when minerals from the pet’s saliva precipitate in the plaque. The first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis, which involves inflammation of the gingiva tissue. As the condition progresses, the bacteria invade under the gum line, damaging the teeth supporting structures. In advanced stages, greater than 50% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost. 
  • Tooth resorption lesions — More than half of cats 3 years and older have at least one tooth resorption lesion, and the condition can also affect dogs. This progressive disease leads to tooth destruction and extreme pain when the tooth’s sensitive dentin is involved. The cause is unknown, but theories include an autoimmune response, viral infection, and metabolic imbalances relating to calcium regulation. Tooth resorption lesions can typically be observed only on dental X-rays.

Q: What pets are susceptible to dental disease?

A: Every pet is susceptible to dental disease, but some pets, including senior pets, and small, toy, and brachycephalic breeds, are at higher risk. Factors that increase a pet’s risk include poor dental hygiene, genetics, and malocclusions. 

Q: Why is periodontal disease problematic for pets?

A: Periodontal disease commonly causes halitosis, but an untreated bacterial infection can lead to extremely serious consequences, such as:

  • Painful gums — Irritation and inflammation cause swollen, bleeding gums.
  • Loose teeth — As the bacteria break down the tooth’s supporting structures, the tooth becomes loose, which can make chewing difficult for your pet. In advanced stages, teeth are commonly lost.
  • Tooth root infection — When the bacteria invade the tooth root, infections that create painful abscesses can occur.
  • Oral-nasal fistula (ONF) — An ONF occurs when bacteria progress into an upper tooth and create an opening between the pet’s mouth and their nasal cavity. 
  • Fracture — Deterioration occurs when bacteria affect bony structures, which can weaken and potentially fracture. Cats and small-breed dogs are at highest risk for pathologic jaw fractures.
  • Systemic effects — Pets who have periodontal disease have a large oral bacterial population, and the inflammation can allow the bacteria to enter the bloodstream, leading to systemic infection, which especially damages the heart, kidneys, and liver.

Q: What are periodontal disease signs in pets?

A: The most common sign most pet owners notice is bad breath, because pets tend to hide pain and discomfort. Other signs may include:

  • Bleeding, swollen gums
  • Difficulty or reluctance to eat
  • Excessive drooling
  • Chronic ocular or nasal discharge
  • Chronic sneezing
  • Facial swelling
  • Discolored teeth

Q: What are tooth resorption signs in pets?

A: Most pets affected by tooth resorption lesions don’t exhibit signs until their dentin is exposed, and lesions typically can’t be seen without dental X-rays. Signs may include:

  • Jaw spasms
  • Excessive drooling
  • Oral bleeding
  • Difficulty eating

Q: How can I protect my pet’s dental health?

A: The most effective way to keep your pet’s mouth healthy is with regular professional veterinary dental cleanings. Most pets should have a thorough oral assessment once a year, but pets at high risk may need more frequent evaluations. Our veterinary team will determine how often your pet’s mouth should be assessed. These procedures are extensive and involve:

  • Anesthesia — During a professional veterinary dental cleaning, we use sharp instruments, making anesthesia necessary to ensure your pet doesn’t experience stress or injury. Anesthesia also ensures your pet is cooperative and lets our team perform a thorough assessment and cleaning. 
  • Dental X-rays — Many lesions, such as tooth resorption and bone deterioration, can’t be identified without dental X-rays. These views help our team devise an appropriate treatment strategy for your pet.
  • Oral examination — We thoroughly evaluate your pet’s mouth, and probe around each tooth checking for periodontal pocketing, which may indicate disease.
  • Cleaning — Our team carefully removes plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth and damaging bacteria from under their gum line.
  • Polishing — We polish your pet’s teeth to ensure the surface is smooth and will discourage bacterial deposits.

Q: What should I do to protect my pet’s dental health between professional cleanings?

A: After a cleaning, plaque starts to form on the tooth surface in 24 hours, which means that home dental care is critical for keeping your pet’s mouth healthy. Recommendations include:

  • Brushing your pet’s teeth — Daily toothbrushing is the best way to remove bacteria from your pet’s teeth. With patience and a generous amount of treats, most pets learn to accept the practice. Ensure you use pet-specific products, since many human dental products are dangerous for pets. 
  • Providing dental treats — Certain treats approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) can help remove plaque and tartar. 
  • Feeding a dental diet — In some cases, we may recommend a prescription dental diet. The kibble in these foods is specifically designed to scrub plaque and tartar from the teeth, and some formulations contain additives to help prevent plaque from developing into tartar. Ask our veterinary team if a prescription dental diet is appropriate for your pet.

Promoting your pet’s dental health is important for their overall wellbeing. Contact our Fear Free team at Westerville Veterinary Clinic to schedule a professional veterinary cleaning for your pet to help prevent serious disease and pain consequences.