Periodontal disease is the number one health problem in cats and dogs, and yet it is the only area of veterinary medicine where preventative care is not routinely practiced. Why is this? Well for starters, there are generally little to no visible signs of the disease process, so most owners don’t notice problems until late in the disease process. Typically, bad breath is the first and most obvious sign. Most of us see our dentist at least once or twice a year, and routine dental cleaning is an integral part of preventative health care. Cats and dogs suffer from the same dental diseases we do, and since most of us do not brush our pets’ teeth, they tend to develop dental problems even earlier in life.
Facts About Dental Disease
Plaque is made up almost entirely of bacteria, and forms within 24 hours. Tartar (also called calculus) is plaque that has been calcified by minerals in the saliva; it forms within 72 hours. The bacteria contained in plaque is 1,000 times more resistant to antibiotics than other types of bacteria and secretes toxins which invade surrounding tissues and cause inflammation. Inflammation damages the periodontal tissues and their attachments to the tooth, resulting in tooth loss. Advanced dental disease can lead to tooth root abscesses, which are extremely painful, oro-nasal fistulas, tooth fractures, blindness (due to inflammation of the roots close to the eye), oral cancer, and osteomyelitis (infection of the jaw bone). The systemic effects of the untreated dental disease include damage to the kidneys, liver, and heart valves, and can contribute to respiratory diseases and cause insulin resistance.
Basic Periodontal Therapy
The basis of periodontal therapy is plaque control, which is accomplished by a thorough dental cleaning. This MUST be performed under general anesthesia in dogs and cats. Dental cleaning should be performed annually in most cats and dogs, and bi-annually (twice a year) in certain small breed dogs (Yorkshire Terriers, Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and others) who are prone to more severe periodontal disease.