Imagine what it would be like if you did not brush your teeth for 1 year

Imagine what it would be like if you did not brush your teeth for 1 year. Now imagine not brushing your teeth for 5 years or 15 years which equates to 35 and 105 years respectively in “animal years.” Picture how your teeth would look with thick brown tarter buildup, how bad your breath would smell and how uncomfortable it would be to eat with painful, infected, and loose teeth. It is disturbing to think about ourselves living with a rancid mouth, but don’t consider what it is like for our pets to be living years, sometimes their whole lives with periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is when the bone and gum tissue that holds teeth in place starts to break down from the long standing bacteria (plaque) that accumulates without frequent brushing or cleaning. The body responds to bacteria invasion by sending white blood cells and inflammatory signals to battle the infection but in doing so also inadvertently attack normal tissue that supports the teeth thereby weakening those tissues and leading to loose and painful teeth.

There are 4 stages of periodontal disease. Almost all dogs and cats have at least stage 1 or 2 periodontal disease by age 3. These early stages are the ideal time to have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned because at these stages the periodontal disease is reversible. You may only see mild tartar staining on the teeth, however the majority of the disease is not visible with routine exam and hides under the gum line – the tartar that lies in this area can only be removed with an ultrasonic scaler with the pet under general anesthesia. While under anesthesia dental x-rays can be taken to assess for any bone loss. By stage 3 and 4 there is significant loss of the bone that supports the teeth and those teeth need to be removed which involves drilling away at the bones that hold the roots in place and actually cutting the teeth in pieces to allow for easier extraction. This process although necessary can also be painful – a pain that could be avoided with earlier and more regular dental cleanings. The short term pain from having a tooth extracted is favored over the long term pain that the pet experiences by keeping infected teeth in place.

Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in dogs and cats and is 100% preventable with early intervention. The expense involved in cleaning a pets teeth is mostly due to the necessity of anesthesia – but this is the safest and most effective way to perform the procedure. If you find yourself thinking how silly it is have your cat or dogs teeth cleaned just imagine what it would be like if you were destined to only eat mashed potatoes, applesauce, and other soft easily swallowed food for the rest of your life because it hurt too much to chew. Our pets cannot tell us when it hurts and they are very good at hiding pain – it is in their nature – please have your dog or cat evaluated by a veterinarian to discuss routine dental care.