Dental problems can negatively affect your pet's overall health and well-being. Today, the Brookhaven Animal Hospital vets explain how to spot dental health problems in your pet, what the most common issues are, and how they can be prevented or treated.
Your Pet's Oral Health
Your pet's oral health is closely linked to its overall health and well-being. Your pet uses its mouth, teeth, and gums to eat and vocalize, so when its oral structures become damaged or diseased, it can stop functioning properly and a pet can experience pain that interferes with its ability to eat and communicate normally.
In addition, bacteria and infections that cause many oral health issues in pets won't just remain confined to your pooch's mouth. Left untreated, these bacteria and infections can start to circulate throughout your pet's body, damaging organs such as the liver, kidneys, and heart. This can lead to more serious negative consequences for your pet's health and longevity.
This is one of the reasons regular pet dental care and veterinary dentistry are critical elements of your pet's routine preventive healthcare - regular dental cleanings can prevent health concerns, or ensure developing issues are caught and treated early.
How to Spot Dental Issues in Pets
While specific symptoms will differ between conditions, there's a chance your pet is suffering from dental disease if you notice any of these behaviors or conditions.
Some of the most common symptoms of dental disease in pets can include:
- Bad Breath (halitosis)
- Visible tartar
- Difficulty with or slow eating
- Pawing at their teeth or mouth
- Missing or loose teeth
- Excessive drooling
- Bleeding, swollen, or noticeably red gums
- Weight loss
If you see any of the above signs of dental disease in your pet, bring them to your Brookhaven vet as soon as possible for examinations. The sooner your pet's dental disease is diagnosed and treated the better for your cat's long-term health.
Common Pet Dental Problems
While a wide range of health issues can impact your pet's teeth, gums, and other oral structures, there are a few particularly common conditions to watch for.
Plaque & Tartar Buildup
Plaque is a whitish substance made primarily of bacteria. This biofilm develops on the teeth and has a bad odor that worsens the longer it remains in the mouth. Tooth decay and gum irritation can result from plaque buildup.
If teeth are not brushed and plaque removed within about 24 to 48 hours, plaque then hardens and forms into tartar, a yellow or brown-colored substance your veterinarian calls calculus. Tartar remains attached to the surfaces of the teeth and cannot be removed without being scraped off with a dental scaler or another hard object.
Tartar causes tooth decay and gum irritation to grow worse. Plaque and tartar leave your pet at high risk for tooth loss and gum disease. Common signs include discolored deposits on teeth, a red, swollen gum line (referred to as gingivitis), and bad breath. Owners may notice more frequent bleeding gums and worsening breath as dental disease progresses.
When plaque and tartar remain in the mouth, bacteria get under the gum line, eroding tissue and bone that hold your pet's teeth in place. Periodontal disease starts with gingivitis. Loss of soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth occurs as the disease becomes more advanced. The teeth's support structures degrade and pockets develop around the tooth roots.
This allows bacteria, debris, and food to accumulate here and dangerous infections to develop. Over time, the teeth loosen and start to fall out.
If periodontal disease develops, bacteria can make their way into the open space around tooth roots, leading to infection, which may manifest as a tooth root abscess.
Pus then develops in the bacteria-laden pocket around the tooth to fight the infection. Left untreated, the abscess may become so large that it leads to swelling in the face and anatomical deformity.
While oral infections are often caused by periodontal disease, they often happen secondary to trauma in the mouth. Trauma may be due to injury from chewing on hard or sharp objects.
Dogs that are powerful chewers can fracture their teeth chewing on very hard plastic, antlers, or bones. Most vets will recommend against allowing your pet to chew on anything harder than what you would want to bang hard on your knee.
The size of chews can also factor into the occurrence of tooth fractures - a chew that's too large for a pet's mouth may make the tooth and chew line up that breaks the outside of a tooth (known as a slab fracture).
Your veterinarian may recommend picking chews, which are small enough to hold in the mouth without swallowing by accident. However, these are not so large that your pet will need to have a fully open mouth to safely chew on them.
Preventing Dental Issues in Dogs
The most reliable way to help prevent the development of dental problems with your pet's teeth is by routine brushing and cleaning your cat's mouth. You'll give your pet a much better chance of having healthier teeth and gums if plaque is brushed away before it can cause damage or infection.
To keep your pet's teeth in great condition and their breath fresh, schedule your pet for a professional dental examination and cleaning once a year. Dental appointments at Brookhaven Animal Hospital are similar to taking your pet for an appointment at the veterinary pet dentist.
To prevent oral health issues from developing in the first place, you should start cleaning your pet's teeth and gums when they are still young and will be able to quickly adapt to the process. You may also consider adding pet dental chews to their routine.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.