Dental disease is one of the most common health disorders affecting pet dogs and cats. Dental disease comes in many forms. With time, all animals develop plaque and tartar on the surface of their teeth and under their gum lines. Inflammation of the gums and weakening of the structures that support teeth typically results. Eventually, teeth may become loose and even fall out. Teeth can also be fractured through excessive chewing or traumatic injuries. Cats are particularly prone to a very painful condition that causes teeth to be reabsorbed by the body (i.e., feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions or FORL's). Other terms that are used to describe different types of dental disease include gingivitis, periodontal disease or gingivostomatitis.
Dogs and cats with dental disease often have bad breath, may be reluctant to chew hard foods or eat at all, can drool excessively, lose weight and resent being touched around their mouths. A veterinarian can examine the inside of a cooperative animal's mouth during a physical exam and get a general idea of its oral health, but a complete examination of all surfaces of all teeth and the mouth's soft tissues requires anesthesia. X-rays are necessary to determine whether or not the roots of teeth and their surrounding structures are healthy.
The treatment of most dental diseases starts by thoroughly cleaning both the visible surfaces of teeth and the parts that lie under the gum line. Severely diseased, damaged or painful teeth are usually removed. Root canals or other endodontic treatments can successfully treat some types of dental disorders and have the added benefit of allowing the animal to retain its teeth. Daily tooth brushing, antiseptic rinses, foods and treats that promote oral hygiene, and routine dental cleanings can all help to prevent dental disease from developing in the first place or from returning after treatment.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008