Bad breath in pets, particularly dogs, is often joked about, but it is not a laughing matter. Periodontal (dental) disease affects up to 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3, and just like humans, there can be serious consequences of poor dental health. Periodontal disease is the leading cause of premature death in cats and dogs and is now believed to be #1 cause of heart disease in dogs.
How many teeth do dogs and cats have, anyway?
Dogs start out with 28 deciduous (baby) teeth, cats start out with 26 deciduous teeth. By six months of age, these baby teeth fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth, 42 in dogs and 30 in cats.
Will I find the deciduous teeth, and what happens when they don’t fall out on their own?
You may or may not find the teeth as they fall out. As dogs play and chew on toys, you might see a tooth. Likewise, as a cat grooms, you may find a tooth in the fur. If the deciduous teeth don’t fall out and the permanent teeth erupt under them, this can lead to problems, such as increased tartar formation, malocclusion (bad bite) problems, and gingival (gum) irritation.
What are tooth resorptions and what do they mean for my cat?
Tooth resorption is the most common dental problem in cats. (Resorptions are not cavities! In fact, cavities are extremely rare in companion animals, especially cats.) As many as 28% of cats will develop at least one of these lesions in their lifetime. Tooth resorption is the gradual destruction of a tooth or teeth caused by cells called odontoclasts.
A resorption usually starts on the outside of a tooth at the gum line. If the resorption is obvious, it often looks as though gum tissue is growing over or into the tooth. It can also appear there is a hole in the tooth, which is why some people may think it’s a cavity. Less visible resorptions can be found using magnification devices and lighting once the cat is anesthetized and immobile. But tooth resorption under the gum line must be diagnosed via dental x-rays.
As you might guess, feline tooth resorption is a painful condition. However, many cats show no obvious signs of pain unless and until a lesion is actually touched. Sometimes an affected cat will drool, have bleeding from the mouth, or difficulty eating. Occasionally there can also be vomiting of unchewed food, behavior changes and bad breath.
When should dental care start with my pet?
The earlier the better. With puppies and kittens, our doctors will be on the lookout for retained deciduous teeth and malocclusion (bad bite) problems. We will also teach you how to care for your pet’s teeth and gums at home. Annual comprehensive oral exams by our doctors are very important for early detection of periodontal disease.
How can I tell if my pet has dental problem?
Bad breath is often a first indicator of dental disease. Gently lift the lips and check for tartar, inflamed gums, or missing/broken teeth. Cats may exhibit increased drooling. Both cats and dogs can exhibit reluctance to eat or play with toys, “chattering” of the teeth when trying to eat, lethargy, bleeding gums, eroded teeth, and failing to groom (cats). Dental disease progresses in stages — if caught early, you can prevent further damage and save as many teeth as possible.
Are some breeds at greater risk than others?
Small/toy breeds are at greater risk of periodontal disease because their teeth are often crowded together and some breeds are genetically predisposed to malocclusion (bad bite) problems. This results in an increased accumulation of plaque because the normal cleansing mechanisms are hindered.
How is the rest of the body affected by bad teeth?
Infected gums and teeth aren’t just a problem in the mouth — the heart, kidneys, liver, intestinal tract, and joints may also be infected. The tartar and any infected areas of the mouth contain a multitude of bacteria than can ‘seed’ to other parts of the body. With regular dental care, you can prevent some of these more serious side effects.
Where should I start?
Our doctors will talk to you during your pet’s preventive care appointments about how to initiate a good dental care program at home. We are happy to provide brushing lessons, and we carry toothbrushes and toothpaste specifically for your pets. (NOTE: Do NOT use human toothpaste on your pet! It can be toxic to them.) Good oral home care may include tooth brushing, water additives, a prescription dental diet, chews or treats.
Your pet should receive an annual comprehensive oral exam from our doctors (a 10-minute, no cost appointment). If a dental cleaning is needed, pre-anesthesia blood work is required to make sure your pet does not have any underlying medical problems.
My pet needs a dental cleaning — what is involved with that?
As mentioned above, pre-dental blood work is required. This is a check on the overall health of the pet to make sure that liver, kidneys, and blood counts are within normal ranges and to reduce any risks possible prior to the anesthesia. Many pets with bad teeth will be put on an antibiotic a few days prior to the dental to calm the infection and reduce possibility of complications.
Your pet will fast the evening before for the anesthesia. While under anesthesia, a veterinary assistant continually monitors your pet’s vital signs, including his breathing, oxygen levels, blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and heart rhythm.
The dental procedure is similar to a human dental cleaning – tartar removal, checking for cavities, gingival (gum) pockets, loose teeth, any growths on the gums or palate, removal of diseased teeth, and finally, polishing. The polishing is to smooth the tooth after tartar removal, as the tartar pits the tooth. A smooth tooth will not encourage tartar formation as easily as a roughened tooth.
What if I can’t afford it?
We understand that responsible pet ownership is not inexpensive and we do what we can to help. (For example, see our page on Adult and Senior Preventive Care Plans, which cover the cost of an annual preventive oral A.T.P.) However, regardless of the cost, we will always give you our recommendation for the best possible care for your pet. If our recommendations are cost-prohibitive, we will make suggestions as to the best course of action, based on what you can afford.
With good dental care, your pet can enjoy a long and healthy life.
Now, take our Dental Health Quiz, get a passing grade, print your certificate and bring it to Fairview Animal Hospital for a FREE bag of VeggieDent treats (one per client) AND earn $10 off your pet’s next dental procedure. See you soon! (Click for more information on our Dental Rewards Program.)