Periodontal disease is one of the number one health problems in cats and dogs. In fact, by the age of two, it is estimated that 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some degree of periodontal disease.
Untreated periodontal disease may cause more than just oral discomfort and tooth loss. The bacteria associated with dental disease can enter the bloodstream via inflamed gums and affect the heart, kidneys, liver and even lungs. Unfortunately, because our pets infrequently show any outward signs of dental problems, periodontal disease may also be one of the most under-treated diseases.
Meet “Mary,” an 8-year-old Siamese mix owned by Shelbi and Kirk Engle. On an annual exam, Dr. Smith could see signs of a specific type of periodontal disease unique to cats. Mary essentially had tiny pits that were spreading into her teeth at the gum line. Unlike human cavities, the process causing these lesions is not yet well understood and filling them does not work.
What we do know is that resorption of the tooth is occurring, thus these lesions are frequently called resorptive lesions. Because the lesions penetrate the enamel and affect the deeper layers of the tooth, they are quite painful. Frequently, the gingiva will grow over the lesion making them more difficult to detect. This gingival growth may also hide the full extent of the problem and the visible component may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Mary’s owners scheduled a dental procedure for her, knowing that the only way to treat the lesions and rid her of the discomfort they cause was to extract the affected teeth. During Mary’s procedure a third tooth was found to have a resorptive lesion. Since these lesions tend to affect the teeth either at or below the gum line, it is not uncommon to find them only while the cat is under anesthesia, when we are able to do a more thorough examination of the mouth including probing below the gum line.
Mary recovered from her extractions well and her proactive owners plan to continue regular dental cleanings where we will always be on the lookout for more resorptive lesions.
One of the easiest ways to track dental disease at home is to simply lift your dog or cat’s lip and become familiar with what your pet’s mouth normally looks like. People who have begun a daily tooth brushing regimen, tend to notice changes such as red or receding gums, increasing dental tartar (calculus), chipped or broken teeth and even oral tumors very early in the disease process.
Early detection of problems is helpful not only in preventing discomfort for your pet, but enables us to better address the underlying problem and prevent it from affecting other organ systems.
Other signs of dental disease to watch for at home include not eating or difficulty eating, eating only soft food, chewing on one side of the mouth, bad breath and drooling. Sometimes signs are vague and a pet may simply act lethargic or withdrawn. When dental disease is severe and a tooth root abscess has occurred, facial swelling may even be seen. Fortunately, taking a proactive approach with home care, annual exams and dental cleanings, these problems can be quickly addressed or may be avoided altogether.
For more information about dental care for your dog or cat, click here >
To view the step-by-step process we use to clean your pet’s teeth at Bothell Pet Hospital, click here >