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Periodontal Disease in Pets: Why is a Dental Cleaning so Important to Your Pet’s Health?

Periodontal disease is one of the top medical conditions treated in veterinary medicine. Periodontal disease in pets is caused by a buildup of bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria form a film over the teeth called plaque. The bacteria then can become calcified by the calcium in your pet’s saliva, turning to tartar. Periodontal disease is generally described in two stages, gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is the initial, reversible stage in which the inflammation is confined to the gums. The inflammation is created by plaque bacteria and may be reversed with a thorough dental cleaning and consistent home care. Periodontitis is the later stage of the disease process and is defined as an inflammatory disease of the deeper supporting structures of the tooth. It can damage the connective tissues surrounding the tooth and can also damage the bone.

Recent animal studies suggest the possibility that the same bacteria that causes plaque to form can enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and spread to the heart, liver and kidneys. This process is called bacteremia and can cause lasting organ damage. This explains why a dental cleaning is about much more than whiter teeth and fresh breath.

We start each dental cleaning with a physical exam to identify any possible health risks that could complicate the administration of general anesthesia. There is also the option to run pre-operative blood work to help make sure everything is functioning well and that your pet should be able to withstand anesthesia. Your pet is constantly monitored before, during, and after the procedure. Most of the tartar build-up that we can’t see under the gum line has to be cleaned off first with a hand scaler, followed by an ultrasonic scaling device to clean the teeth above the gum line. Then, a special polishing paste that smooths out any scratches in the enamel of the teeth will be applied. Finally, we wash the gums with an antibacterial solution that will help delay the build-up of tartar. The entire procedure usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

While your pet is being seen for a cleaning, we will also take dental x-rays to check on your pet’s teeth both above and below the gum line. These x-rays will allow us to see any problems that wouldn’t be visible on the surface of the tooth. We also check to make sure no teeth are broken or infected.

By focusing on dental care for your pets, you will help them live a longer, happier and healthier life.

By Ben Fox, DVM