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Dental Care Questions

What you need to know about your pet's dental health

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Open up and say Ahhhh! Photo credit: sarah m scott on Flickr.

Open up and say Ahhhh!

© sarah m scott on Flickr.

Companion piece to: The Importance of Dental Care for Pets Please see the vet question archive for more Q & A topics.

Healthy Mouth = Healthier Life
Each year, February is designated as Pet Dental Health month. Various organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Veterinary Dental Society promote pet dental health awareness campaigns.

February isn't the only time to think about good oral health though. Keeping your pet's teeth and gums in good shape has many health benefits in addition to the sparkling fresh breath. Now is the time to schedule that checkup for your pet to ensure the best dental health possible.

My pet has bad breath. Are bad teeth and gums the cause?
Most likely, yes. However, it is very important to schedule a visit to the veterinarian. In rare cases, some diseases or situations can cause bad breath in the absence of, or in addition to, tooth/gum disease.

Conditions such as kidney failure, diabetes, nasal or facial skin infections, oral cancers, or situations where the animal is ingesting feces or other materials, can cause bad breath with or without periodontal disease.

What actually causes the bad breath when tooth/gum disease is present?
Bad breath, medically known as "halitosis", results from the bacterial infection of the gums (gingiva) and supporting tissues seen with periodontal disease (periodontal = occurring around a tooth).

What is the difference between plaque and tartar?
Plaque is a colony of bacteria, mixed with saliva, blood cell, and other bacterial components. Plaque often leads to tooth and gum disease. Dental tartar, or calculus, occurs when plaque becomes mineralized (hard) and firmly adheres to the tooth enamel then erodes the gingival tissue.

What can happen if my pet's teeth aren't cleaned?
Both plaque and tartar damage the teeth and gums. Disease starts with the gums (gingiva). They become inflamed - red, swollen, and sore. The gums finally separate from the teeth, creating pockets where more bacteria, plaque, and tartar build up. This in turn causes more damage, and finally tooth and bone loss.

This affects the whole body, too. Bacteria from these inflamed oral areas can enter the bloodstream and affect major body organs. The liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs are most commonly affected. Antibiotics are used prior to and after a dental cleaning to prevent bacterial spread through the blood stream.

But my pet is only 3 years old. Isn't this an "old dog/cat disease"?
No - dental disease is not just for senior pets. Each pet has individual factors- age, diet, dental anatomy - that play a role in the development of dental plaque and tartar.

Next page: Do pets experience oral pain like people?

Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM. All rights reserved.

Photo credit: "Open up and say Ahhhh" by sarah m scott on Flickr

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