Perhaps the most common health problem I see in pets is dental disease. Unfortunately, until dental disease is very severe, most pet owners aren’t even aware it exists!
Dental disease in our pets is very insidious. Gradually over time, the beautiful pearly whites that come with youth are affected first by dental calculus, then by gingivitis, and finally by full blown dental infections that lead to bad breath, loose teeth and oral pain. What I have learned from my years in practice is that our pets are shockingly stoic about oral pain. The vast majority of pets will continue to eat and behave normally, even with advanced dental disease. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t uncomfortable, but it does mean that their teeth can become quite bad before we realize there is a problem.
Dental disease doesn’t just affect the mouth, but it can also cause problems systemically. The chronic infection and inflammation of gingivitis and periodontal disease is known to contribute to heart disease in people. We also know that constant stimulation of the immune system by chronic infections can have far reaching adverse effects; blood borne infections from oral bacteria can cause infections in the heart and kidneys and other organs.
Signs of dental disease are easy to recognize once you know what you are looking for. A healthy mouth has shiny white teeth, pink gums with no evidence of redness or swelling along the tooth margin, and breath that, while maybe not minty fresh, is at least not awful. Dental disease starts with dental tartar or calculus, a brownish gray deposit that occurs along the tooth and gum margin. This can quickly lead to gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gum tissue (gingivitis appears as red and swollen gums). Once calculus and gingivitis set in, a pet’s breath will become more and more foul. But doggie breath is the least of his problems. As dental disease progresses, the gums will recede, exposing the roots of the teeth which then become loose. Finally, oral pain will become more apparent, as pets are reluctant to chew or sometimes even eat at all.
Dental disease must be treated by having your pet’s teeth cleaned, a procedure that requires anesthesia in order for us to do a thorough job. For tips on how to prevent the onset of dental disease and maintain your pet’s healthy mouth, stay tuned to the blog!