By Debbie White, D.V.M

Arizona Health Magazine


Meet Gidget. She is a spunky, fun-loving 10-year-old Chihuahua that you can smell coming from another room. Gidget seems healthy and happy, and certainly never misses a meal. Her family has always noted an odor from her mouth, and just accepted that Gidget has bad breath. The reality is that Gidget has advanced stage dental disease. She is suffering from loose, infected teeth and risks organ dysfunction due to the chronic infection. She will need to undergo a dental cleaning and will likely have many teeth removed due to advanced dental disease.

Dental disease is one of the most common ailments that veterinarians diagnose on a yearly physical exam. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society approximately 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats will have some degree of periodontal disease by the time they are 3. Unfortunately, many pets' dental disease goes untreated until serious problems set in. The progression of periodontal disease starts as bacteria and plaque products build up on the teeth, causing tartar. With time, the tartar progresses to gingivitis, loose teeth, abscesses and eventually tooth loss. And because all that bacteria is present in the body, bacterial embolization can occur—the process in which bacterial and toxins spread through the bloodstream and settle into the internal organs such as the kidney, liver, and heart valves. This can lead to dysfunction in these organs and thereby shortening the animal's life, all just from infected teeth.

Certainly dental disease of this degree must be painful, right? Any human that has ever had an infected tooth can attest to the pain involved. So what about our canine friend Gidget? Nobody in Gidget's family ever heard her cry, whine or turn away from her food. Her family is loving and attentive but just never had any idea she had a serious dental condition. The reality is that animals rarely show outward signs of dental pain by crying or whining. This does not mean that animals do not feel pain,, but rather that they fail to verbalize this pain until it becomes quite advanced.

Regular dental exams are an important first step in evaluating the presence of periodontal disease. The frequency of dental exams should be every six to 12 months for most dogs and cats. Then scheduling regular dental cleanings with your veterinarian as recommended. Your pet's teeth will be scaled, polished and charted for any dental abnormalities. Dental cleaning visits at your veterinarian are a very important step in removing tartar buildup and allowing detection of deeper gum disease. Maintaining your pet's dental health requires a cooperative effort between you and your veterinarian. Home dental care is just as important as having your pet's teeth cleaned. Methods of home dental care include brushing teeth, applying dental sealants, using oral rinses, and feeding dental care diets or treats. By addressing pet dental health on all levels, we can ensure the dental health of our animal companions and ensure many years together.

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