CVMA | Documents | Your Pet's Smile Depends on Oral Health

Your Pet's Smile Depends on Oral Health

September 1, 2015

Of course, pets do not smile because of their oral health, but it illustrates the point that a healthy pet is a happy pet! 

Periodontal disease is caused by harmful bacteria in the mouth. Whether or not your pet gets periodontal disease depends on many factors including:

  • Genetic or breed predisposition (Yorkie, Miniature Schnauzer etc.)
  • Anatomy (malocclusion, crowding, dental deformities)
  • Level of dental care provided
  • Chewing activity
  • Diet
  • Concurrent diseases that can affect the immune system [diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV)]

Oral conditions are many, and periodontitis (inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth), endodontic disease (disease of the dental pulp inside the teeth), chronic gingivostomatitis in cats, and cancer may also be present. Oral health may also be compromised by exposure to irritants, or foreign material.

Signs of Oral Health Problems

Signs of oral health problems include bad breath (halitosis), trouble chewing, increased saliva (drooling), swelling or redness of gums, abnormal tooth colour, missing or broken teeth, lumps or swellings around the teeth, inflamed or sore lips, oral cavity, tongue, palate, or tonsils; if an abscess, there may be a pus discharge evident from mouth or nostril, or via a tract in the skin of the face. Even diseases of the eye may be related to disease of the upper molar teeth.

Signs of a Healthy Mouth

A healthy dog or cat mouth should be odour-free, and contain healthy, white, evenly spaced teeth with pink, glistening gums that are tightly adherent to the teeth. Remember you are an important part of your pet's healthcare team so take time to look in the mouth regularly to make sure nothing is changing - daily tooth cleaning helps with this habit!

Early Stages of Periodontal Disease

In the early stages of periodontal disease, the gums become inflamed and red, and there may be a slight accumulation of yellowish tartar to the teeth. If left untreated, this eventually progresses to plaque accumulation, gum recession, loosened teeth, bad breath, inflammation and bleeding of the gums, and eventually loss of teeth, oral infections, and even poor overall system-wide health.  
It is known that dogs and cats with periodontal disease release a significant "shower" of bacteria into their blood stream whenever they chew, resulting in a bacteraemia. It is thought that ongoing bacteraemia may result in a potentially life-threatening disease of the heart valves called bacterial endocarditis. Bacteremia can also adversely affect the organs with the highest blood flow, such as the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis and bronchitis), kidneys (interstitial nephritis), liver (hepatopathy) and nervous system (meningitis).

According to Dr. Fraser Hale, board-certified veterinary dentist, prevention of periodontal disease can be easily accomplished through proactive oral surgery to deal with developmental and anatomic problems, regular brushing of the teeth, proper diet, chewing exercises, the use of VOHC-accepted plaque control products (visit and annual professional dental evaluations and maintenance therapy. Your veterinarian can discuss these various methods of prevention and treatment with you. 

(Revised August 2015)