If you are a pet owner, you are no stranger to that cringe of revulsion when your dog or cat breathes or yawns near your face.
Maybe your pet yelps when attempting to gnaw on a hard treat, chews on one side of their mouth, or noticeably drops food while eating. These may be signs your pet is suffering from a form of gum disease—most commonly, periodontal disease. Periodontal (gum) disease is a severe infection of the soft tissues that hold teeth in place and is a result of plaque buildup—a sticky film of bacteria—on teeth.
Dr. Donnell Hansen of BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital explains that while many studies suggest there is a correlation between periodontal disease and systemic diseases in humans (a similar phenomenon exists in pets), she worries more about the consequences of pain and infection that periodontal disease brings.
The truth is most patients won’t show signs of oral pain and will continue to go on playing and eating. They just don’t have a way to vocalize their pain,” remarked Dr. Hansen, DAVDC, Board Certified in Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery, BluePearl, Eden Prairie/ Blaine. “My biggest concern with periodontal disease is that while you may see symptoms and there can be hints for oral concern, most indicators are hidden. Regardless of how the mouth looks, it is important to have annual dental examinations that include x-rays.”
Dr. Hansen says the problem can escalate when bacteria from plaque and tartar spreads deeper into the gum line, causing inflammation in and around the mouth. For this reason, Dr. Hansen says preventative care, such as daily brushing and annual dental examinations, is key.
By maintaining a healthy mouth, we do notice that helps with other inflammatory diseases. It is particularly helpful in maintaining diabetic regulation,” explained Dr. Hansen. “Preventative care rather than reactive treatment is the goal. Start brushing your pet’s teeth and playing with their mouth when they are young. This will help them become ‘vet ready,’ which simply means they are desensitized to the processes involved in dental care, like looking inside their mouth and ears.”
Because pets are silent sufferers, it is difficult for pet owners to determine if their pet is in pain and where that pain is coming from.
Pets are masters at hiding illness, so periodontal disease may go unnoticed until reaching an advanced stage. That is why it is critical that pet owners see a veterinarian for annual dental checkups, and a veterinary dentist for ultrasonic cleanings, which are essential to keeping gums and dental bone healthy and clean,” Dr. Hansen said. “Remember; periodontal disease is both preventable and reversible, but will worsen as your pet grows older if effective preventive measures aren’t taken. Early detection and treatment are vital and can prevent your pet from experiencing unnecessary pain and infection.”
Talk with your family veterinarian about scheduling an annual dental exam that is appropriate for your pet’s breed, age, and health condition.