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Val Caron Animal Hospital

3055 Highway 69 N
Val Caron, ON P3N 1R8


Understanding Dental Disease

Dental disease is an extremely common and often painful condition that can go unnoticed by pet owners. Dental disease begins with the accumulation of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a slime that is composed of bacteria, saliva, and food particles that adhere to the teeth and fills the pockets between the teeth and gum line. The plaque then becomes mineralized to form calculus (tartar). When calculus accumulates on the teeth, it can build up under the gum line. Once calculus is under the gum line, the body responds, resulting in inflammation of the affected area. This usually begins with gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and can lead to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the inflammation and infection of the structures supporting the tooth. This includes the gums, the ligament attaching the tooth to bone and the bone itself. As the inflammation and infection progresses, there may be pus near the gum line and the tooth will become loose as the ligament holding the tooth in place is affected. The infection will spread and cause loss of bone and eventually loss of the tooth root, leading to very loose and painful teeth.

There are several categories of dental disease based on the level of inflammation of the gums, build up of calculus and amount of bone loss. All categories require preventative measures and early treatment prior to advanced progression.

The signs of dental disease your pet may or may not display include bad breath, excessive drooling, difficulty eating, disinterest in eating hard treats and chewing with or favouring one side of the mouth. In very serious dental infections, animals may have decreased energy, decreased appetite, have loose teeth or develop tooth root abscesses. It is important to note that many animals have a high tolerance for pain or discomfort and therefore it may be easy for dental disease to go unnoticed by pet owners.

Fortunately, dental disease can be prevented. The single most effective way to prevent dental disease is to brush your pets' teeth. This ideally should be performed daily. Tooth brushing should be a fun event for your pet. It is important to start when puppies and kittens are young (8-12 weeks old) and to continue as your animal ages. Although baby teeth will be replaced with adult teeth, brushing will get your pet used to the procedure and will increase an animals' compliance as they age. Brushing begins with a soft bristled tooth brush, finger toothbrush or a gauze wrapped finger, in combination with an enzymatic toothpaste available from your veterinarian. Human toothpaste should be avoided as it can be harmful to pets. When brushing your pets' teeth, you need to brush the outer aspect of your pets' teeth with your pets' mouth closed. The toothbrush bristles should be placed at the gum margin where the teeth and gums meet. The movement should be in an oval pattern and the bristle ends should move into the area around the base of the tooth as well as into the space between the teeth.

When an animal has dental disease, various treatments are available based on the severity of the disease. If mild disease is present, treatment may include tooth brushing, water additives, oral rinses, dental treats and veterinary dental diets, all which aim to reduce plaque and calculus buildup. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) tests products that claim to reduce plaque and calculus and therefore prevent and/or reduce dental disease. For more information on a list of approved products please refer to

Early treatment of dental disease may require dental cleaning. A dental cleaning includes scaling and polishing the teeth under general anesthesia. This is an extremely important procedure as both plaque and calculus are eliminated both on the exposed area of the tooth but also under the gum line. In moderate to severe cases, radiographs (x-rays) may be needed to determine if the tooth roots are affected and if there has been loss of bone. Loose teeth indicate that there is loss of attachment to the bone and the teeth would need to be extracted.

In conclusion, the majority of animals will have some degree of dental disease and numerous treatments are available. Most cases of dental disease can be prevented by brushing your pets' teeth on a daily basis and visiting your veterinarian for a yearly wellness exam. It is advantageous to prevent and treat any disease early, rather than waiting until extensive dental procedures are needed.

For more information on dental disease and other animal diseases, please refer to and