Oral health is critical to your pet’s overall wellness. Dental disease is the most common oral complication in pets, but the condition frequently goes undiagnosed. Our Bayview Animal Hospital team wants to optimize your pet’s oral health, and we offer information that you need to know about pet dental disease.

Periodontal disease in dogs and cats

Periodontal disease is a collective term used to describe inflammatory conditions affecting the supporting tooth structures. Periodontal disease progresses as follows:

  • Plaque — Bacteria are attracted to food particles in your pet’s mouth, they accumulate, and form plaque.
  • Tartar — If the plaque is not removed, mineral salts in your pet’s saliva can precipitate and deposit in the plaque to form tartar. The tartar accumulates and extends around the tooth, and the gritty surface irritates the gingiva.
  • Gingivitis — Gingivitis is considered the first stage of periodontal disease. Gum inflammation is present, but no bone loss has occurred, and the tooth is still fully attached.
  • Early periodontitis — In this periodontal disease stage, less than 25% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost. Mild bone loss may be noted on oral X-rays, and periodontal pocket depths are mildly abnormal.
  • Established periodontitis — Between 25% to 50% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost. X-rays show moderate to severe bone loss, and periodontal pocket depths are abnormal.
  • Advanced periodontitis — Greater than 50% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost. Teeth in this stage must be extracted.

Periodontal disease complications in pets

Pets who have periodontal disease experience many complications, such as:

  • Oral infection — Periodontal disease is a significant bacterial infection throughout your pet’s mouth.
  • Bad breath — Smelly breath is an indicator that your pet has periodontal disease. The bacteria colonizing your pet’s mouth produce sulfur compounds that smell bad.
  • Bleeding gums — Gum irritation and damage caused by bacteria lead to swollen, bleeding gums.
  • Loose teeth — As the tooth’s supporting structures deteriorate, the tooth loosens, causing pain for your pet. If the tooth falls out or must be extracted, the empty socket can cause complications, as well.
  • Abscesses — When the bacteria enter the tooth root, abscesses can occur and can lead to draining tracts and ocular complications.
  • Oral nasal fistula (ONF) — ONFs are created when bacteria damage tissue, resulting in communication between the oral and nasal cavities, and causing chronic sinusitis.
  • Blindness — Periodontal disease can create inflammation close to the eye, potentially leading to blindness.
  • Jaw fracture — When the bacteria cause jaw bone loss, fractures can occur, especially in cats and small-breed dogs.
  • Oral cancer — Periodontitis causes a chronic inflammatory state that may lead to oral cancer.

Systemic disease related to periodontal bacteria in pets

When a pet has periodontal disease, the large amounts of bacteria that reside inside the mouth and oral tissues can enter the pet’s bloodstream, causing distant or systemic infection. Organs that are especially susceptible to oral bacterial spread include:

  • Heart — The bacteria that cause periodontal disease are the same pathogens often implicated in heart disease, such as endocarditis and valvular disease. In addition, periodontal disease has been linked to an increased heart disease risk in pets.
  • Liver and kidneys — The liver and kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood, so bacteria from the oral cavity can cause infection and inflammation in these organs.

Tooth resorption in pets

Tooth resorption is a progressive disease in which the tooth root erodes, leading to tooth loss or deterioration. More than half of cats older than 3 years of age have these lesions, and dogs are also frequently affected. Tooth resorption is considered extremely painful once the sensitive tissue is involved, but the lesions usually can only be seen on dental X-rays. The exact cause of tooth resorptions is unclear, but an autoimmune response may contribute to the condition. Signs may include jaw spasms, oral bleeding, excessive drooling, and difficulty eating. Once the resorption involves the tooth crown or causes tooth instability, extraction is necessary to alleviate the pain.

Preventive care to optimize your pet’s dental health

Periodontal disease can be prevented with appropriate care. Tooth resorption cannot be prevented, but regular screening can detect lesions early to help avoid discomfort and pain. Recommendations include:

  • Wellness exams — Every pet should be evaluated by a veterinary professional at least once a year, and senior pets should be assessed every six months. These visits involve a thorough physical exam, as well as diagnostics to detect any abnormalities that may indicate a health complication. An oral examination also is part of a typical wellness visit, and our veterinary team can advise you on preventive and treatment options, depending on your pet’s condition.
  • Professional veterinary dental cleaning — Professional veterinary dental cleanings, which include dental X-rays, are performed under general anesthesia. These procedures are necessary to identify tooth resorption lesions and periodontal disease in the early stages. During a professional veterinary dental cleaning, damaging bacteria are removed from your pet’s teeth and below their gum line to help prevent tissue destruction and bacterial spread.
  • At-home care — Plaque starts to form only hours after a cleaning, and at-home care, such as daily toothbrushing, is necessary to remove bacteria and keep your pet’s mouth healthy.

Conditions that affect your pet’s dental health can become significant problems for their overall wellness. Contact our Bayview Animal Hospital team to schedule a wellness exam or professional veterinary dental cleaning, so we can help ensure your pet doesn’t have issues that can comprise their quality of life.