According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have oral disease by the age of 3. In fact, oral disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets. Most older pets will have advanced tartar build-up and some degree of gum disease. This is due to the gradual build-up of plaque and tartar. Plaque harbors the bacteria which can infect gum tissue and the root system of the teeth. This can result in healthy teeth having to be extracted because the root structure has been compromised.
In addition, plaque, tartar, periodontal disease, and infected teeth serve as a source of inflammation and infection for the rest of the body. For example, bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and may cause serious kidney infections, liver disease, lung disease, and heart valve disease. Occasionally, this cause and effect relationship may be reversed and the presence of oral disease or inflammation may indicate that a disease process is occurring elsewhere in a pet’s body. A thorough physical exam combined with appropriate laboratory work can determine if this is the case.
Regular professional cleaning is important to maintaining your pet’s health at any age. Dental cleanings are performed using modern and safe ultrasonic equipment and each tooth is thoroughly cleaned above and below the gum line. Dental technicians then polish the teeth to create a smooth, lustrous surface more resistant to plaque buildup.
There are many ways that dog and cat owners can help their veterinarian provide a healthy mouth for their pet including regular tooth brushing and checking your pet for signs of oral disease, which can include:
- Tartar buildup
- Red and swollen gums
- Bad breath
- Changes in eating or chewing habits
- Pawing at the face
- Generalized depression
Click here for a helpful document that you can use to help acclimate your pet to brushing their teeth, or here to learn more about healthy dental diets. You can also check out the Cornell Vet School’s video on cats or the AVMA’s educational videos on dogs to help you train your pet to accept tooth brushing and more.