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Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats

Dental disease is a general term relating to diseases of the teeth and periodontium (gums, periodontal ligament, and bony socket). Dental disease usually begins with the accumulation of plaque on the teeth. Plaque forms when bacteria begin to adhere to proteins from the saliva on the surface of the tooth. Almost 20% of the plaque is made up of bacteria. Plaque is not readily seen with the naked eye. The accumulation of plaque is markedly accelerated by the presence of calculus. Calculus, or tartar, is composed of calcium salts that precipitate from the saliva and can easily be seen on the surface of the teeth by lifting the lips and observing the premolars and molars. The accumulation of plaque and calculus leads to the formation of gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis further speeds the accumulation of plaque and leads to the development of periodontal disease, which is manifest as destruction of the tissues surrounding the tooth, leading to loosening of the tooth and possible abscess formation. The presence of such periodontal disease in pets over two years of age approaches 95%.

According to the Fall 1998 issue of the American Animal Hospital Association Trends Magazine, diligent dental care can add as much as five years to your pet's life. This improvement is possible because the bacteria associated with dental disease can lead to heart disease, liver disease, and kidney disease. By keeping your pet's mouth in excellent condition, you may be able to prevent or significantly delay the onset of such organ failure. Dental disease can also be extremely painful, causing discomfort to your pet that you may not recognize. Many pets start "acting young again" after their dental disease is controlled. Another benefit is that diligent dental care may cure your pet's bad breath.

Controlling existing dental disease begins with a thorough teeth cleaning under anesthesia. Preoperative laboratory testing is tailored to your pet's age and health status. Any problems noted on the preoperative test results are addressed prior to anesthesia. Depending on the severity of your pet's dental disease, an antibiotic injection may be required prior to anesthesia to help prevent oral bacteria from spreading during the dentistry. Your pet's teeth will be cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler to remove plaque and calculus from the surface of the tooth and from beneath the gumline. The teeth will then be polished with a special pumice that helps smooth surface irregularities that contribute to plaque formation.

Once your pet's teeth are cleaned, plaque formation and gingivitis will return in as early as three weeks unless you take measures to stop them.

The following steps will help control dental disease and extend your pet's life:


The most effective means of slowing the progression of dental disease is routine tooth brushing. Teeth should be brushed once daily with a pet tooth paste.


This oral rinse should be used daily to control bacteria in the mouth.

Tartar control diets/treats:

These products are useful in controlling tartar, but are not a replacement for brushing and rinsing.


Pets with a history of serious dental disease may benefit from periodic treatment with oral antibiotics.

Remember, the more diligently you perform home dental care, the less frequently your pet will need to undergo anesthesia for teeth cleaning.


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