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Your Pet's Oral Health

It is estimated that 3 out of 4 dogs and cats over 3 years of age have some degree of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in dogs and cats seen by veterinarians, and it is entirely preventable. Periodontal comes from the Greek peri, meaning around, andodous, meaning tooth. Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the tissue that surrounds the teeth. 

Bad breath is NOT normal in healthy pets.  Some signs that your pet may have dental disease include bad breath, trouble chewing, restlessness and weight loss.

Periodontal Disease begins as gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gingiva, or gums, when bacteria in the mouth form a substance called plaque that sticks to the surface of the teeth. Subsequently, minerals in the saliva harden the plaque into dental calculus (tartar), which is firmly attached to the teeth. Tartar above the gum line is obvious to many owners, but is not of itself the cause of disease.The real problem develops as plaque and calculus spread under the gum line. You can see early stages of this irritation in the red line and slight rounding of the gum where it meets the tooth. Gingivitis is reversible if treated promptly. Left unchecked, the condition advances to periodontitis, affecting the periodontal ligament, causing permanent tooth damage and, ultimately, loss.

As periodontal infection advances Bacteria under the gum line secrete toxins, which contribute to the tissue damage if untreated. These bacteria also stimulate the animal’s immune system. The initial changes cause white blood cells and inflammatory chemical signals to move into the periodontal space (between the gum or bone and the tooth). The function of the white blood cells is to destroy the bacterial invaders, but chemicals released by the overwhelmed white blood cells cause damage to the supporting tissues of the tooth. Instead of helping the problem, the patient’s own protective system actually worsens the disease when there is severe build-up of plaque and tartar.

There is a wide range in the appearance and severity of periodontal disease, which often cannot be properly evaluated or treated without general anesthesia for veterinary patients. Effects within the oral cavity include damage to or loss of gum tissue and bone around the teeth, development of a hole (‘fistula’) from the oral cavity into the nasal passages causing nasal discharge, fractures of the jaw following weakening of the jaw bone, and bone infection (‘osteomyelititis’). Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and are carried around the body. Studies in dogs have shown that periodontal disease is associated with microscopic changes in the heart, liver, and kidneys.

Dog and cat teeth have the same basic structure. The crown, which is covered in enamel, is the part above the gum, or gingiva. Under the enamel is the dentin. The dentin extends below the gum line (gingiva) and forms the root of the tooth. The inner portion of the dentin is the pulp chamber, also called the root canal, which contains the blood and nerve supply for the tooth.

The photo on the right shows healthy teeth and gums                                       



The teeth in these pictures below show different degrees of tartar buildup.  The tooth in the picture to the left is in the early stages of tartar formation.  The tooth in the picture to the right has severe tartar buildup.  You can also see the red, swollen gum inflammation caused by gingivitis.   

Dental Radiography

In some cases, often with older pets and those with more advanced dental disease, much of the problem lies beneath the gumline. In order to properly evaluate whether a tooth needs to be extracted, or can be saved, it is necessary to take x-rays of any teeth in question. Using our modern digital dental imaging system, our doctors can evaluate your pet's teeth quickly and accurately.

The Cleaning Process

A thorough dental cleaning requires the pet to be under general anesthesia. The process for a routine dental cleaning involves scaling and polishing the teeth. It is during this process that a more complete oral exam can also be performed, evaluating the condition of each tooth.


The technician in these two pictures is using an ultrasonic scaler which, through high frequency, removes tartar buildup and cleans above and below the gumline. Note in the upper picture the tartar buildup on the middle tooth and front canine tooth prior to scaling.

In this picture, you see the same teeth after ultrasonic scaling.


After scaling is completed, the teeth are polished with a special dental polisher and paste. This process smooths the enamel of the tooth.