Dental Care & Periodontal Disease Treatment

Animal Hospital Serving Pets in Philadelphia, PA.

The number one most commonly diagnosed health problem in small animal veterinary practice is a dental disease. Due to how little has historically been done to protect the oral health of pets, roughly 85% of dogs and cats have contracted a dental disease by the time they are two years old. While it used to be that next to nothing was done to protect pets from dental disease, we know better now. It’s essential for your pet’s well-being that you take Preventative Action against dental disease both at home and with a veterinary professional, and to aggressively treat any dental diseases which your pet may already have


Periodontal Disease 

Periodontal disease is the most common infection for an adult cat or dog to contract. Caused by bacteria which, if left unchecked, form a layer of a sticky residue called plaque over the teeth of an animal, Periodontal disease (PD), will often begin very early in a pet’s life. However, these bacterial invaders frequently go undetected, as there are few signs of the disease easily evident to the owner in its early states, aside from bad breath (halitosis). Halitosis in pets is typically a sign of bacterial infection, so take bad breath seriously, and see a veterinarian if your pet begins to show this red flag. While it remains undiagnosed, PD will progressively advance into more severe stages, causing discomfort, pain, gum, and bone destruction, eventually resulting in tooth loss.

In addition to these dental symptoms, periodontal disease can wreak havoc on the rest of your pet’s body, as the immune system of an animal with PD is forced to constantly fight off the invading organisms. Bacteria can be released into the bloodstream whenever the patient chews or engages in any other oral activity can place a stress on the immune system of your pet, thereby rendering your pet more vulnerable to infections in areas distant from the mouth, and can have a substantial negative effect on overall health and longevity.

Chronic Periodontal Disease Can Have a Secondary Effect on the Kidneys, Liver, Lungs, and Heart. 

Bacteria don’t wait long after an animal is born to start building up plaque and colonize the oral cavity. After a tooth has erupted with infection, the bacteria start to colonize its surface and the gingival sulcus surrounding it. Even before your pet’s permanent teeth have come in, the bacteria can cause gingivitis (gum swelling and redness). But this is only the beginning of the problems periodontal disease will cause. As time goes by, layers of plaque build up and then start to mineralize (harden) using calcium taken from the oral cavity. This creates an unsightly, resilient brownish substance known as calculus. The calculus then gives the plaque even more surface space on which to build up. Plaque and calculus can build up both above (supra-gingival) and below (sub-gingival) the gum line, but sub-gingival is the most egregious because it is the cause of the inflammation and infection.


Preventing Oral Disease in Pets

To prevent gingivitis and the more advanced stages of periodontal disease, it’s vital to prevent plaque from accumulating on and around the teeth. The best thing you can do to remove plaque is mechanical tooth brushing. If the animal will allow it, daily brushing is recommended, as the majority of dogs and cats which have not received any form of oral hygiene will contract gingivitis. Some chew toys and other oral devices can help, but in no circumstances should they be considered a substitute for brushing; there exists no such substitute. A variety of dental care products including toothbrushes and toothpaste specifically designed for dogs and cats are available on the market. You should avoid using human toothpaste to clean your pet’s teeth; they often contain fluoride, detergents, and abrasives which dogs and cats should not swallow or inhale.

Dental treats should be viewed with a critical eye as, most of the time; the claims of health benefits on the labels of dental treats have little to no basis in evidence. Look for products marked with VOHC Veterinary Oral Health Council before you purchase. Stay clear of cow hoofs, bones, hard rawhides and other hard objects; these products may damage your pet’s teeth. That said, softer, flat rawhide chips may have some benefits, depending on the variety. We carry CET Dental Chews which contain enzymes which help prevent plaque accumulation, released upon chewing. Additionally, Nylon or rubber chew toys provide some cleaning and may be beneficial. However, remember that there is no substitute for brushing. These products are insufficient for the proper maintenance of dental health, and you should monitor your pet while they chew. Otherwise, these products may cause intestinal obstruction.


Aside from home dental care, it is recommended that your pet receive professional cleaning at least once a year. Such cleaning will require the patient to go under general anesthesia so that both sub- and supra-gingival plaque and calculus can be thoroughly removed. A mere hand-scaling the plaque and calculus above the gum line are utterly insufficient, and should not provide you with a false sense of security.

If You See Plaque and Calculus, the Time to Get a Professional Cleaning Is Now. Act Before Signs of Gingivitis Appear.

Dental treatment for your pet generally begins with such a professional tooth cleaning, performed under general anesthesia. Once the anesthesia kicks in, a veterinary technician, under the supervision of one of our doctors, will clean and polish your pet’s teeth as they are individually evaluated. In advanced cases of a disease, it may be recommended that your pet have extractions of some teeth to help control or prevent the spread of disease.

Your pet may also require medication in the form of oral solutions, gels, and antibiotics. After we get the patient’s condition under control, the most important treatment becomes home care, so that recurrence is prevented.  Diet also places a large role in the dental health of our patients. Switching from moist, sticky foods to dry foods may provide some cleansing benefit; however, the dental cleansing from typical dry foods is a far cry from the benefits of a dental diet. There are effective, convenient, and nutritious dental foods available proven to reduce plaque and calculus accumulation, as well as gingival inflammation. Most pets will accept a dental diet.