Many pets are affected by dental conditions that can lead to significant pain and potentially serious health consequences. Our Central Houston Animal Hospital team strives to improve your pet’s health and comfort, and we provide valuable information about your pet’s dental health to help you recognize if they are affected.

Periodontal disease in pets

Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in pets, affecting approximately 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by 3 years of age. Food particles left in your pet’s mouth after a meal attract bacteria that form plaque on their teeth. Plaque hardens into tartar if not removed, and the infection can spread under the gum line. The initial stage is gum inflammation (i.e.,  gingivitis), and then damage to the supporting structures of the teeth as the disease progresses. Important information about periodontal disease includes:

  • Consequences — Periodontal bacteria are extremely harmful and pervasive. Potential consequences include bad breath, swollen, bleeding gums, loose or missing teeth, tooth root abscesses, oronasal fistulas, eye infections, jaw bone fractures, and oral cancer. In addition, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream, and damage organs, such as the kidneys, liver, and heart. 
  • Signs — The most common periodontal disease sign is bad breath. Other signs may include discolored teeth, difficulty eating, nasal or ocular discharge, excessive drooling, behavioral changes, and blood on your pet’s food or chew toys.
  • Diagnosis — In some cases, periodontal disease can be diagnosed during an oral examination, but dental X-rays are necessary to fully evaluate your pet’s oral health.
  • Treatment — A professional veterinary dental cleaning is necessary to treat periodontal disease, and more advanced procedures, such as extractions, may be necessary if any teeth are too diseased to salvage.
  • Prevention — In addition to regular professional veterinary dental cleanings, daily toothbrushing helps prevent periodontal disease in pets. Dental treats and prescription dental diets may also be helpful, depending on your pet’s condition.

Tooth resorption lesions in pets

Tooth resorption is a progressive disease that completely destroys teeth. The condition is extremely common in cats, affecting about 75% of cats older than 5 years of age, and is somewhat common in dogs. The exact cause is unknown, but theories include an autoimmune response, calicivirus infection, and metabolic disturbances that cause calcium imbalances. Important information about tooth resorption includes:

  • Consequences — Affected teeth are destroyed, and the exposed areas of resorption in the oral cavity are extremely painful.
  • Signs — In many cases, the pet shows no outward signs, but potential signs include increased salivation, oral bleeding, difficulty eating, and jaw spasms.
  • Diagnosis — Dental X-rays are necessary to diagnose and classify the tooth resorption.
  • Treatment — If the tooth crown is not affected, only periodic rechecking of the tooth will be needed. In more advanced cases, tooth extraction or root canal therapy may be necessary.
  • Prevention — Tooth resorption cannot be prevented, but regular professional veterinary dental cleanings can help ensure early detection and to prevent unnecessary pain and discomfort.

Tooth fractures in pets

Tooth fractures, which usually result from a traumatic incident or chewing on an exceptionally hard object, are common in pets. Fractures can involve only the hard mineralized enamel, or be more severe, and expose the tooth root and nerve. Important information about tooth fractures include:

  • Consequences — Tooth fractures can be painful and can predispose the affected tooth to infection, which may be hard to resolve, since the bacteria hide inside the root canal.
  • Signs — If the fractured tooth is not obvious, signs can include oral bleeding, difficulty eating, facial swelling, excessive drooling, and chewing on only one side of the mouth.
  • Diagnosis — Dental X-rays are necessary to assess the tooth root and determine the extent of the tooth fracture.
  • Treatment — Potential tooth fracture treatments include root canal therapy, vital pulp therapy, and extraction. Treatment is determined by tooth and tooth root involvement.
  • Prevention — To decrease risk of tooth fractures, don’t allow your pet to chew on hard objects, such as antlers, bones, hooves, and any toys that do not bend easily.

Oral cancer in pets

Oral cancer most frequently affects older pets, with melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and fibrosarcoma the most common oral cancer types. Important information about oral cancer includes:

  • Consequences — Oral cancer can be uncomfortable and make eating difficult, and some types can metastasize to other body locations.
  • Signs — Potential signs include bad breath, excessive drooling, difficulty chewing, weight loss, facial swelling, and enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Diagnosis — When an oral mass is identified, a biopsy is necessary to determine the tumor type. Blood work, X-rays, and other diagnostics may also be necessary to determine if the tumor has spread.
  • Treatment — Surgery is often the treatment of choice to remove an oral tumor, as well as radiation or immunotherapy.
  • Prevention — Regular dental care helps prevent inflammation caused by periodontal disease that can predispose your pet to oral cancer. While not all oral cancers can be prevented, early detection is important to allow intervention as soon as possible.

Dental issues can significantly affect your pet’s health and quality of life, but you can take steps to decrease their risk. If your pet has bad breath, or any other indication of a dental condition, contact our Central Houston Animal Hospital team, so we can determine their problem and ensure they get the treatment they need.