Dental Care for Pets

The Importance of Dental Care for Pets

By Jessica Wilson

Good oral health is an important part of your pet’s overall health and general wellness; yet, it is one of the most overlooked areas of pet health. Dental disease can result in bad breath, painful chewing, and eventual tooth loss. Bacteria lives in tartar and plaque. Bacteria is normal in the oral cavity; however, when bacteria proliferate, environmental selection of the harmful, disease-causing (pathogenic) bacteria cause an increase in their number, competing with the normal (benign) bacteria for resources. This leads to a decrease in the number of normal bacteria. This can lead to a vicious cycle that will further increase the number of pathogenic bacteria and decrease the number of benign bacteria. With tartar accumulation, bacteria multiply under the gums, especially during disease conditions such as gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gum tissue.7

Every time a pet with dental disease such as gingivitis or periodontal disease (inflammation of the periodontium) chews their food, they can push this bacteria further under the gingiva, lodging it under the gingival sulcus. This tissue has a large blood supply. This bacteria then may enter the bloodstream at this location, possibly leading to heart, kidney, and liver damage with septicemia, which is bacterial infection of the blood supply throughout the entire body. Dogs and cats are generally very good at hiding their pain and disease symptoms; this means that they could have very advanced oral disease before any symptoms are seen by the people who care for them. This is another reason that regular professional dental examinations and prophylactic cleanings are very important to your pet’s overall health and well-being.5

Signs of oral and dental disease in dogs and cats can include:

  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Discolored or tartar covered teeth
  • Avoiding having their mouth touched
  • Drooling or dropping food while eating
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss2                                                                     

Periodontal disease is the most commonly diagnosed disease in companion animal veterinary practice. Periodontal tissues include the gingiva, cementum, alveolar bone, and periodontal ligament. The gingiva, especially the attached band closest to the tooth, is the oral cavity’s first line of defense against bacterial penetration.4 The periodontal ligament is the strong connective tissue that firmly holds each individual tooth into its surrounding alveolar bone. By three years of age, 75-80% of all dogs and cats will have some stage of periodontal disease. Thankfully, most oral and dental diseases in pets can be controlled or even prevented utilizing routine professional and home dental care.6 During the final stages of periodontal disease, the tissues surrounding the tooth are destroyed, the bony alveolar socket holding the tooth in erodes, and the tooth becomes loose, which is very painful for our pets.

Stages of Periodontal Disease:

  • Stage I: No attachment loss (reversible)
  • Stage II: Up to 25% attachment loss
  • Stage III: 26%-50% attachment loss
  • Stage IV: Greater than 50% attachment loss4                                                           

Dental care includes home and professional preventative care. Regular brushing of your pet’s teeth can help prevent dental disease. When brushing your pet’s teeth, hold the brush at a 45 degree angle to the tooth while brushing in a circular motion for the best results. Also, be sure to use a pet-approved tooth paste. They can come in many flavors such as peanut butter or chicken flavor. Please do not use human tooth paste with your pet! Certain foods, such as Hill’s Prescription Diet t/dÒ can help decrease plaque buildup and maintain cleaner teeth. This diet in particular is very abrasive, scraping the plaque from the tooth surface as the pet chews. Chew toys can also help to massage gums and exfoliate the plaque from your dog’s teeth.1

Please schedule an appointment with your regular veterinarian to examine your pet. It is very important for your pet’s oral cavity to be examined at least once a year by your veterinarian in order to detect early issues and to keep your pet healthy. If your pet requires specialized dental care, your veterinarian can make the decision whether the issue can be handled within their clinic or needs to be referred to a specialty animal hospital.3 Routine dental care is critical to preventing serious dental disease that can lead to other even more serious health issues in our pets.


  2. AVDC. Information for Owners. 2016. Web. Accessed 8/20/16.
  4. Lobprise, H. Periodontal Disease: More than just a dirty mouth. Veterinary Medicine. 2003.
  5. Pet Health Network. 10 Reasons Why you Should Take Care of your Pet’s Teeth. 2014. Web. Accessed 8/20/16.
  6. Ray, J. and D. Eubanks. Dental Homecare: Teaching your clients to care for their pet’s teeth. J Vet Dent. Vol. 26 No. 1. 2009.
  7. Vet Street. Dental Cleaning for Dogs and Cats. 2014. Web. Accessed 8/20/16.