According to the American Veterinary Dental Society the majority of both dogs and cats will have some evidence of periodontal disease by the age of 3. Some breeds are more predisposed to dental disease, such as toy or small breeds, brachycephalic breeds, or pure-bred cats. Dental health is a very important part of overall health and care for our pets, and when left untreated can lead to systemic disease affecting other organs in the body, such as the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys.
Some pets may show no outward signs of periodontal disease, others may be severely affected. Signs of periodontal disease in dogs and cats may include:
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Calculus/tartar accumulation
- Loose teeth or discolored teeth
- Excessive drooling
- Reluctant to play with toys
- Difficulty eating or refusing hard food/treats
- Being "head shy" (reluctant to petting of the head/examination of the mouth)
- Change in behavior (lethargy, aggression)
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Swelling of the face near/around the mouth
- Chronic sneezing or nasal discharge
Initially a veterinarian conducts a thorough oral exam to see if there are any identifiable abnormalities prior to surgery. A COHAT (comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment) is then scheduled to address any abnormalities identified and look for others. This surgical procedure is performed under general anesthesia. Dental radiographs should be performed on each patient to assess structures beneath the gingiva (tooth roots, maxilla/mandible, etc.). This allows for the identification of tooth root abscesses or fractures, unerupted dentition, neoplasia, or fractures of the maxilla/mandible that may not be visible on to the naked eye. After radiographs are obtained, a treatment plan is formulated to address any extractions necessary, biopsies, or referral to a board-certified veterinary dentist if needed (i.e neoplasia, jaw fractures, advanced endodontic care). Probing and ultrasonic scaling and polishing also are preformed on each patient.
Preventive care is imperative to prevent the progression of periodontal disease following a COHAT. This should ideally start from puppy/kittenhood so the patient becomes accustomed to it. The American Veterinary Dental College recommends brushing teeth at least 3 to 4 times weekly. This helps decrease plaque/tartar formation and allows for you to examine the mouth on a weekly basis. There are numerous products available to use in addition to weekly brushing, such as water additives, dental chews/treats, dental wipes, and prescription dental diets. You can research products approved by the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) for use in dogs and cats at the following websites:
Non-anesthetic "dentals" being performed by veterinarians or non-veterinarians is increasing. The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) do not support the use of non-anesthetic dental cleanings, as they do not allow for examination or cleaning beneath the gumline, which is where the majority of periodontal disease lies. It also does not allow for the proper treatment of diseased teeth through extraction, root canal therapy, etc. It is merely a cosmetic procedure, removing visible tartar without addressing the true underlying issue of periodontal disease.