Halitosis (bad breath): It’s a problem that many pet owners are all too familiar with. What some pet owners are unaware of, however, is that bad breath is often an indication that much more is going on within their pet’s mouth.
The majority of cats and dogs over the age of 3, approximately 85 percent, have some form of periodontal or dental disease. Similar to humans, pets accumulate plaque on a daily basis. Plaque is made of 90 percent microscopic bacteria, which over time, hardens and becomes what we call tartar or calculus. This bacteria and tartar can lead to gingivitis (gum inflammation), which is the body’s response to the unhealthy bacteria. When the gum tissue is unhealthy, it often progresses to periodontal disease, bone loss at the root of the tooth, and eventually tooth loss.
Poor oral hygiene affects more than just the mouth. Infection in the mouth can enter the bloodstream, damaging the kidney, heart, and other organs. Infected teeth and gums are often quite painful, yet many pets are able to continue to eat and drink even with severe dental disease, so a lack of appetite is not always the best indicator of a problem.
It is important to recognize that we can only see a portion of each tooth—sometimes only half of the tooth is exposed above the gum line. Advanced disease often hides in the roots of the teeth, below the gum tissue. A comprehensive dental cleaning should be done when your veterinarian recommends it, and it should include scaling of each tooth (both above and below the gum line), thorough evaluation of each tooth, measuring any gum recession, and taking X-rays. Once all disease is addressed, the cleaning should be followed by a high-speed polishing to help fill the small grooves created in the enamel by cleaning and normal wear. General anesthesia should be used in order to effectively clean below the gums, obtain radiographs, and prevent the pet from swallowing any bacterial debris that is being removed.
Regular teeth brushing at home can greatly improve oral health, reducing or preventing periodontal disease, and improving overall health. At your pet’s next veterinary visit, speak with your veterinarian about a comprehensive oral assessment and treatment plan—it could mean the difference between a healthy pet and not-so-healthy pet.
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