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Dental/Periodontal Disease

Dental disease is as common in dogs and cats as it is in humans. Infact, it is estimated that up to 85 % of dogs and cats over the age of 4 are affected with some form of dental disease. The most common form of dental disease in humans is cavities. However, this is not the case in dogs. The most common form of canine dental disease is tartar buildup. This causes irritation of the gums around the base of the teeth (gingivitis), resulting in exposure of the roots. Ultimately, this leads to infection, erosion of bone and other suppporting tissues, and finally tooth loss. Beyond tooth loss, however, severe periodontal disease can lead to pathological fractures of the lower jaw bones, and/or erosion of the ventral part of the nasal sinsus leading to an infection that spans the maxilla (upper jaw bone) and nasal sinsus, called an oronasal fistula.

There are many misconceptions about tartar buildup in dogs and cats. Diet is probably much less important than most people realize. Also, the crunching action of dry food contacts the gumline and helps maintain healthy gums. However, eating dry food does not REMOVE tartar from the teeth. Once tartar forms, a professional cleaning is necessary. One of the main factors determining the amount of tartar buildup is the individual chemistry in the mouth, with is in large part, genetically based. Some dogs need yearly cleanings; other dogs need a cleaning only once every few years, even once every many years.

If tartar left on teeth has several negative effects:

1) The tartar can mechanically push the gums away from the roots of the teeth. This allows the teeth to loosen in their sockets and infection to enter the root socket. The teeth will loosen and fall out or have to be extracted.

2) Oral infection sets in, resulting in gingivitis, tonsillitis, and pharyngitis (sore throat). Although antibiotics may temporarily suppress the infection, if the tartar is not removed from the teeth, infection will return quickly and worsen.

3) Infection within the mouth has the potiential to be picked up by the blood stream and carried to other parts of the body. Kidney infections, as well as infections involving the heart valves, frequently begin in the mouth.

Proper cleaning of the teeth requires complete cooperation of the patient so plaque and tartar can be removed properly, therefore, general anesthesia is required. Although anesthesia always carries a degree of risk, the risk is quite small when proper preventative monitoring devices are used and safe anesthetisc utilized, even for older dogs and cats. Pre anesthesia bloodwork is recommended for any patients 6 years of age or older age to ensure that there is not any underlying conditions that may compromise the patient’s safety during the procedure.

A full service dentistry consists of the following:

1) Scaling removes the tartar above and below the gum line. This is done with hand instruments and ultrasonic cleaning equipment.

2) Polishing smoothes the surface of the teeth, making them resistant to additional plaque formation.

3) Flushing removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to remove the bacteria that accompany tartar.

4) OraVet Gel apllication (and biweekly follw-up at home) helps to prevent future tartar adhesion (see below for clarification).

As far as future periodontal disease prevention is concerned, certainly brushing teeth is a good idea for both dogs and cats. If your pet will allow you to do so, you can obtain a canine/feline tooth brushing kit from your vet or certain pet stores. However, clinical research has shown a new approach to canine and feline periodontal disease prevention that can be used in conjunction with, or as an alternative to brushing of the teeth, Oravet.

OraVet works in an effective new way. It significantly reduces plaque and tartar formation by creating an invisible barrier that prevents bacteria from attaching to your pet’s teeth. While other products may remove plaque and tartar, OraVet is the first plaque prevention system. It’s a completely safe and drug-free product that adheres to teeth even through brushing.

OraVet Plaque Prevention Gel makes it simple for you to care for your pet’s teeth at home – it’s an easy weekly alternative to daily brushing. Starting two weeks after your pet’s dental cleaning, apply OraVet Plaque Prevention Gel once a week to maintain the barrier your veterinarian established. It takes less than 60 seconds to do, as you just spread the gel along your pet’s gum line using the applicator supplied. We offer the OraVet option to all clients whose dogs/cats come in for dentistries.


Roger L. Welton, DVM
Founder and Chief Editor,
President, Maybeck Animal Hospital

Founder, CEO, Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care

Article updated 2/14/2014

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