Most pet owners don’t think too much about their pet’s mouth, but conditions affecting their oral health can lead to significant pain and potentially serious systemic complications. Our Lebanon Animal Hospital team sees numerous pets affected by dental issues every day, and we want to educate you about common dental conditions we see.
What are the most common pet dental issues?
Pets can be affected by many of the same dental issues that affect humans, but the most common ones include:
- Periodontal disease — Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition seen in pets, affecting about 80% of dogs and 70% of pets by the age of 3. Bacteria in your pet’s mouth form sticky deposits on their teeth called plaque. If not removed, plaque can harden into tartar and harmful bacteria can invade below your pet’s gumline to damage the supporting structures of their teeth. In addition to swollen, bleeding gums and loose teeth, serious consequences can occur if periodontal disease is not treated. Potential complications include:
- Tooth root infection — If the bacteria invade the tooth root, a painful abscess can develop. In some cases, the infection can migrate through the tissue, resulting in an open wound in your pet’s face or jaw.
- Oronasal fistula — When the upper teeth are affected, the bacteria can invade the soft palate, resulting in an opening between the mouth and nasal cavity, which allows food and saliva to enter the nasal passage. This can lead to chronic sinusitis.
- Eye infection — The back upper tooth roots sit close to the eye, and when these teeth are affected, infection can migrate to the ocular tissue, resulting in eye infection.
- Jaw fracture — When infection invades bone, the bone is weakened, which can result in a jaw fracture.
- Oral cancer — The chronic inflammation caused by periodontal disease may increase your pet’s risk for oral cancer.
- Tooth resorption lesions — Tooth resorption is the progressive destruction of a tooth’s calcified tissue. The condition can be extremely painful and affects about 75% of cats who are 5 years of age and older. The cause is unknown, but theories include an autoimmune response, viral infection, and metabolic imbalances related to calcium regulation. Resorption occurs in five stages:
- Stage 1 — Only enamel is affected.
- Stage 2 — The lesion penetrates enamel and dentin.
- Stage 3 — Resorption progresses to the pulp chamber.
- Stage 4 — Large amounts of the tooth’s hard tissue is destroyed.
- Stage 5 — Most of the tooth is resorbed, leaving a small bump covered by gum tissue.
- Fractured teeth — Fractured teeth are common in pets and can result from a traumatic incident or from chewing on hard objects such as bones, antlers, or hooves. Fractured teeth can be painful and predispose the tooth to infection.
- Oral cancer — The most common types of oral cancers in pets are melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and fibrosarcoma. Most oral tumors are found on the roof of the mouth or around the gums, but they can grow anywhere in the mouth. Some have the potential to metastasize to other parts of the body.
How are pet dental issues treated?
Treatment depends on what condition affects your pet. Potential treatments include:
- Dental cleaning — A professional veterinary dental cleaning can help address periodontal disease. The procedure involves a thorough assessment and cleaning under general anesthesia.
- Tooth extraction — Tooth extraction may be necessary in periodontal disease if the tooth has lost too much of the supporting structure. Teeth affected by tooth resorption lesions are also frequently extracted if they cause the pet pain. In addition, severely fractured teeth may need to be removed.
- Root canal therapy — When a healthy tooth is fractured, root canal therapy can be performed to salvage the tooth.
- Surgery — Surgical removal typically is recommended when oral cancer is diagnosed. Radiation or immunotherapy also may be used in these cases.
How are pet dental issues prevented?
In some cases, such as tooth resorption lesions, dental issues can’t be prevented, but steps you can take to decrease your pet’s risk for other conditions include:
- Regular wellness visits — Once or twice yearly wellness visits help our veterinary team detect conditions, such as periodontal disease and oral cancer, in the early stages when they are easier to treat.
- Routine veterinary professional dental cleanings — These procedures are important to help treat and manage periodontal disease, and they also can help detect other conditions, such as tooth resorption lesions, tooth fractures, and oral cancer. Most pets need a professional dental cleaning about once a year, but toy breed dogs, senior pets, and brachycephalic pets may need more frequent evaluations.
- Toothbrushing — Daily toothbrushing helps prevent periodontal disease, and looking in your pet’s mouth regularly helps you identify abnormalities as soon as possible. Ensure you use pet friendly toothpaste since human dental products can be toxic to pets.
- Appropriate chew toys — Ensure your pet only chews on appropriate toys that won’t damage their teeth or mouth. Avoid products such as antlers, hooves, bones, and chews and toys that don’t bend readily.
Dental issues can be problematic for your pet, but you can take steps to help safeguard your four-legged friend. If you would like to schedule a wellness visit or veterinary professional dental cleaning, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Lebanon Animal Hospital so we can ensure your pet’s mouth is clean and healthy.
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