Caitlin UltimoHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats

Contributed by Dr. Diana Drogan, DVM.

Dental disease affects every pet in the United States, and the majority of the cases go undiagnosed and untreated. Periodontal disease in dogs occurs 80% of the time when your pup reaches age three, while 70% of cats show signs of periodontal disease at this age. Why is this? Because most pet parents do not realize that dog teeth and cat teeth need brushing, too! Imagine your closest friend or partner never brushed their teeth for an entire week. Imagine what their teeth would look like—even worse—what their mouth would smell like. Now imagine the smell in your dog’s or cat’s mouth after years when no dental at-home care is practiced and cleanings are not performed by their veterinarian. Disgusting, right? So what can you do as a responsible pet parent? You can bring them for a physical exam to their veterinarian, which includes an oral exam every six months to catch any oral disease or pathology, like periodontal disease in dogs or cats, that would require dental cleanings or surgery. And you can brush dog teeth and/or cat teeth at home in the meantime!

At-Home Care

Just as in humans, a bacterial layer develops on dog teeth and cat teeth, called biofilm, which forms every 48 hours in dogs and cats. This means that by brushing your pet’s teeth every day—just as you do your own—you can remove bacteria before it hardens and becomes dental tartar, and you will slow the progression of dental disease significantly. In time, this will not only save you money, but save your furry family member from unnecessary pain and help them maintain a healthy immune system and appetite. Afraid of hurting your pet by using a pet-size toothbrush? No worries! Small silicone brushes that slip onto your finger are made for brushing smaller mouths. Most pet dental brushing kits come with both brush options as well as pet-safe toothpaste. Is your pet uncomfortable with their face or mouth being touched even with the finger brush? Do not give up! Dental chew treats and antibacterial oral solutions to add to your pet’s drinking water can help reduce signs of dental disease for pets that do not allow brushing.

Stages of Dental Disease

Dental disease is classified into four stages. Stage 1 is gingivitis, or reddening of the gums, which is the only stage that is reversible! By starting an at-home dental care routine at this stage, you can prevent any tartar buildup, gum recession, and in-depth dental cleanings for some time. Stage 2 is mild dental disease, which will now require a dental cleaning to help restore some of the oral health. Stage 2 not only includes the signs of gingivitis, which is now a dark pink line along the gumline, but also slight tartar buildup, which is starting on the tooth just below the gumline and will appear dark yellow or light brown. In Stage 3 dental disease, gingivitis spreads above the gumline, affecting the gingiva and causing it to appear dark pink, and tartar buildup is moderate, spreading down from the gumline towards the middle of the tooth. The teeth are now getting loose due to the loss of periodontal bone attachment below the gumline, and gums may be puffy and receding. Stage 4 is severe dental disease where you will see abundant dental tartar that will now appear dark brown or gray in color. In Stage 4, you also see severe gingivitis affecting the majority of the gingiva in the mouth, which will now appear dark red and may be bleeding often, as well as gum recession that exposes tooth roots and very loose or missing teeth.

Signs of Dental Disease

Still not sure if you pet has dental disease, like periodontal disease in dogs, or not able to bring your pet for an oral exam with their veterinarian yet? There are various signs you can look for that your pet may show when they are suffering from oral pain or disease. You may notice foul odor coming from their mouth when they breathe near you or lick you. Your pet may have a decreased appetite or only prefer wet pet foods over dry pet foods lately. Your dog or cat may be pawing at their mouth or rubbing their mouth against rugs or furniture. And excessive drooling or pink-tinged saliva may tell you their mouth is infected or inflamed. If any of these signs are observed, please bring your pet for an oral exam with their veterinarian as soon as possible!

Non-Anesthetic vs. Anesthetic Dental Treatment

One of the biggest fads to come into the veterinary industry recently are non-anesthetic dental procedures called NADs. Although at first consideration, the idea of not putting your dog or cat under anesthesia sounds great, the idea of them being awake while trying to perform an actual dental treatment procedure does not sound so great. Once a pet’s teeth have reached Stage 2 dental disease or higher, it is medically necessary to anesthetize them to perform a complete oral exam, dental X-rays and a deep dental cleaning on adult dog teeth or cat teeth. A comprehensive oral exam not only includes examining the teeth and soft tissues such as the gums and tongue for irregularities and tumors, but it gives veterinarians the opportunity to record periodontal pocket readings. These measurements help monitor periodontal disease progression and evaluate whether the adult dog teeth or cat teeth need to be extracted. Most of the controversy surrounding non-anesthetic dental procedures stems from multiple facts. The pet’s airway is exposed while awake, allowing possible aspiration of water into the lungs, and the bacteria being removed from the teeth is aerosolized by the water-fed dental scaler, which is inhaled by the pet. Not only that, but the full mouth X-rays cannot be performed to fully evaluate what is happening below the gumline. When you go to your dentist every six months for dental cleanings, one of those visits will include X-rays so your dentist can assess periodontal bone loss, tooth root abscesses or resorption, and other signs of peridontal disease in dogs or cats. Why not practice the same best medicine for your furry family member? If you are going to spend the money, spend it right, and get your pet a real dental treatment by their veterinarian, not just a thorough teeth brushing by a dental technician with an NAD.