Dental health is as critical for pets as it is for us! Tartar and plaque enveloping the gums and tooth base in our pets can shed bacteria throughout the pet body. Aside from the obvious ‘doggie bad breath,’ conditions like kidney failure, facial/skin infections, nasal infections, heart disease and more all can be associated with an infected mouth. The bad breath (or halitosis) is due to bacterial infections of the gums (gingiva) and supporting tissues (periodontal tissues), which support the tooth in its socket.

In dental disease, all you may notice is reddening of the gums in your pets. In particular, there may be a very clear reddening around the base of the tooth entering into the gum tissue. Bacteria, mixed with saliva, blood cells and other debris will coalesce and create plaque. As the material sits—aside from shedding bacteria into the bloodstream, en route to organs around the body—it will eventually mineralize and form tartar or calculus. This latter product adheres to the gums and enamel coating of the teeth. It is common to see a recession of the gum line as the gum or gingival tissue degrades and erodes from the infection.

Veterinarians will examine the teeth during the course of your pet’s visit. The likely suggestion is to put your pet on an annual or bi-annual schedule for formal dental cleansing. This entails a blood exam pre-anesthesia, a formal descaling and polishing, as is typical of our human dental care. Many vets will suggest and apply some form of product to coat the enamel, minimizing the re-accumulation of plaque and tartar, along with a suggested protocol for routine cleaning by pet owners at home. Maintenance care is the key here. Usually teeth are extracted only when they are very loose as pockets formed in and around the affected tooth will allow for an exacerbation or proliferation of the gum/periodontal tissue infections.

The pet stores offer a large cadre of maintenance products to assure pet health care. I would be cautious in your selection, and always best to seek the advice of your veterinarian, just to be sure.

The pricing and breadth of services for a formal veterinary dental procedure can be shopped around. Compare and ask questions. Be sure that your pet is under direct supervision of a veterinarian during the course of the procedure. Always best to ask about patient monitoring technologies on board, as well.

Jump to the opportunity to keep your critters healthy through proper and persistent dental health care. Cats are just as much in need as are dogs.

Dr. Doug Pernikoff practices at the Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Clinic/Veterinary Pet Rescue. For more information, visit

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