According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have oral disease by the age of 3. It is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets. Common signs of oral disease include tartar buildup, red and swollen gums and bad breath. In later stages you may notice changes in eating or chewing habits, pawing at the face and generalized lethargy or depression.
The cycle starts with the buildup of plaque, a relatively clear substance that sticks to teeth after we eat. Plaque can be removed from teeth via brushing. Over a period of 12-24 hours it absorbs calcium and hardens into tartar, a substance that cannot be brushed off. Tartar accumulates on the tooth both above and below the gum line and creates a terrific environment for bacteria to grow especially in the space between the tooth and the gum (periodontitis).
Simply scraping the tartar off the surface of the tooth does little to correct periodontitis. If we want to truly address the problem we must remove the tartar and bacteria under the gums. This is done under a general anesthetic as cleaning below the gum line is painful and takes quite some time to do well.
Prevention is the key and we can help. Having your pets teeth evaluated annually, during their regular examination, is important as it allows us to detect dental disease as it starts. Prevention begins at home with such things as tooth brushing, encouraging chewing and dental diets.