Most pet owners know they should be caring for their pet’s teeth but often don’t know why it is so important.  Since February is Pet Dental Health Month, we wanted to help educate pet owners on dental issues in pets. 

Did you know that periodontal disease is the most common bacterial infectious disease in pets?  Estimates are that approximately 8 out of 10 pets between 1 and 3 years old have some degree of periodontal disease that requires treatment. 

A healthy mouth should have white teeth and light pink gums, unless you have a breed that have naturally pigmented gums such as Chows.  Normally, all pets will have some amount of breath odor.  However, periodontal disease will cause noticeably bad breath cause by months to years of decay.  It is created by the bacteria and their toxins which destroy teeth and gums.  Accumulated tarter, extremely bad breath, loose teeth, bleeding gums, inflamed and reddened gums, even actual pus coming from tooth sockets can be seen in severe cases.  Known as gingivitis-stomatitis, it is a painful, inflammatory condition of gums and oral tissues.   

These bacteria and toxins can cause other health issues if left untreated.  Periodontal disease is not confined to the mouth.  It can be the main source of inflammation and infection in other parts of the body.  When a pet breathes, it is inhaling these bacteria and toxins in to the lungs.  When it swallows, it is swallowing those same toxins and bacteria sending them to the stomach and intestines.  The toxins and bacteria will enter the bloodstream as it eats.  Over time, this can cause liver, kidney, lung, gastrointestinal and even heart disease.   Just as an example, recent studies have shown that bacteria were often found on abnormal heart valves in pets with heart disease.  That bacteria were identical to the bacteria cultured from their infected teeth and gums. 

Dirty, infected teeth need to be treated in order to eliminate chronic sources of infection and inflammation in the rest of the body.  Often pets that undergo a dental scaling under anesthesia will act young again because of decreased pain and infection.  Professional cleanings are recommended at least annually.  For smaller breeds that tend to be more prone to dental problems, twice a year cleaning may be needed.

After a cleaning, regular, at home maintenance care will be more effective.  Numerous products are available from water additives, dental wipes, powders, chews or paste and toothbrushes.  Anything you as a pet parent do to maintain dental health can help decrease the number of dental treatments needed and improve your pet’s overall health.