Dental Disease in Cats and Dogs

Did you know that dental disease affects 85% of dogs and cats that are at least 4 years old? Periodontal disease starts as bacteria and plaque on the teeth that progresses to tartar and calculus. The bacteria, plaque, tartar and calculus can irritate the gums causing them to become infected, tender, red and swollen. Eventually inflamed gums separate from the teeth, creating pockets that can trap more bacteria. These pockets deepen and bacteria may attack the roots of the teeth and the bony tissue of the jaw, causing teeth to loosen, the gums to bleed, mouth odor, and pain when your pet eats.

Kitten with Yellow Tooth Brush

The Risks of Dental Disease

Bacteria from the teeth and gums can enter the bloodstream and may travel to major organs and begin infection there. Among organs that are most often affected are the lungs, heart, kidneys, and liver. These infections are usually treatable when caught at an early stage. However, they can cause serious damage to these organs.

2 Important Steps to Prevent Harmful Dental Disease

  • A dental exam should be performed by a licensed veterinarian, and if needed, a dental prophylaxis and any treatment will be recommended.

    More commonly referred to as cleaning, dental prophylaxis includes:

    1. Tartar and plaque removal by ultrasonic scaling
    2. Sub-gingival scaling and curettage (cleaning below the gum line)
    3. Polishing to reduce the rate of future tartar buildup
    4. Exam and probing of teeth for periodontal pockets
    5. Antibiotics

    Dental prophylaxis is done under a general anesthetic to allow maximum thoroughness. Sedation allows us to effectively clean and polish the teeth, as well as provide a complete assessment and to treat problems.

  • At home dental care should be implemented one to two weeks after a dental prophylaxis.

The 4 Pillars of Home Care

  1. Brushing
  2. Diet
  3. Chew Products
  4. Food Additives

The first pillar, brushing, is most important. Adding other home care products (Pillars 2, 3 and 4) will help keep the mouth and gums even healthier, but if you do one and only one thing—brushing is best. Some owners find brushing is difficult on a particular pet due to behavior issues or their own physical limitations. Pillars 2, 3 and 4 without brushing will still do some good and slow the progression of tartar and periodontal disease.

Pillar 1: Brushing

It is often helpful to slowly introduce tooth brushing to your pet. We recommend the following strategy.

  • Use your hand to gently lift your pet’s lips and run your finger along the lips and teeth. Do this for 30 seconds on day one and progress to about two minutes by the end of the week. Go slowly and use praise to build your pet’s confidence.

  • This week, use a pet toothbrush, a soft bristle children’s tooth brush, or a gauze pad wrapped around your fingertip dipped in warm water (you may want to add a small amount of peanut butter, canned food, or broth to add taste). Brush only the outer surface of the teeth.

  • We recommend an enzyme based, poultry flavored toothpaste called C.E.T. Do not use baking soda or people toothpaste, as these products may foam and frighten the animal, as well as cause vomiting.

Home Brushing Quick Tips

  • Do not rush the process, or your pet may become resistant.
  • Brushing daily is best, but three times each week is adequate. (Once a week will not achieve the desired results.)
  • Although many of the home care products will help without brushing, it is the brushing action which does most of the cleaning.
  • Proper cleaning at home will reduce the frequency (and therefore the expense) of professional care needed.

Pillar 2: Diet Dog with Bone

Science Diet T/D is a prescription diet that aids dental health. The larger kibble in Hill’s Science Diet Prescription Diet T/D (Tartar Diet) does not immediately shatter in your pet’s mouth, ensuring a longer chewing action. As your pet chews, the fiber matrix in the T/D food gently scrubs the entire surface of each tooth removing plaque and tartar buildup. T/D can be used as a stand-alone adult diet or as a portion of the diet. For example, if a dog receives 3 cups per day, 1 cup of the three could be replaced with T/D.

Pillar 3: Chew Products

We recommend the following products for dogs that like to chew treats:

  • OraVet Oral Chews
  • CET (Enzyme Coated) Rawhide Chews
  • Blue Buffalo Dental Bones

Pillar 4: Food Additive

Clenz-a-dent is a somewhat helpful product that will slow down the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Like dental diets and chew products, this product is not as effective as brushing.

If you have questions about the various dental products, diet, or brushing techniques, please feel free to contact us. We are always happy to help you provide great care for your pet.

"By far the best clinic I have been to! Thank you for all your help and for getting us in so fast."
— Jessica B