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Dental Disease FAQ

Here are some points on dental disease and home care too.  Don’t forget, February is Dental Month!  Book your pet’s dental cleaning in February and receive a great discount!  Don’t delay, spots fill up fast!

By Dr. Lesley Gonzales, based on material written by Dr. Ernest Ward

 Are dental problems the same in pets and people?

In man, the most common problem is tooth decay leading to cavities.  In dogs and cats, however, the most common dental problems are caused by periodontal disease.  Cats also suffer additional dental disease from severe gingivitis and cervical neck lesions (oral resorptive lesions). 

 What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth.  Accumulation of tartar and calculus on the teeth causes gum recession around the base of the tooth, which leads to infection and further gum recession.  This exposes sensitive unprotected tooth root surfaces and the bony tooth sockets, which allows infection to spread deep into the tooth socket and cause bone destruction. 

 What are cervical neck lesions?

Cervical neck lesions are also known as oral resorptive lesions, and are commonly seen in cats.  These lesions result from a progressive destruction of the enamel, resulting in slowly deepening cavities in affected teeth.  These lesions are very painful once the sensitive parts of the tooth are exposed, and the only effective and humane treatment is to extract the tooth.  While poor oral hygiene plays a role in the formal of oral resorptive lesions, the exact cause of this disease is unknown. 

 What are the signs of dental disease in cats?

Cats may show a decreased interest in food, drop food from their mouth, or show difficulty swallowing.  They may drool excessively, and have bad breath.  In some cases, cats may paw at their mouths or shake their heads.  These are usually signs of significant dental disease in cats, as these stoic animals rarely show clinical signs of pain until there is advanced disease. 

 Can tartar be treated in dogs?

Plaque mineralizes into tartar in some dogs much quicker than others.  Small breed dogs are particularly prone to quicker tartar accumulation.  While prescription dental diets can help prevent formation of new plaque and tartar, the only way to adequately remove accumulated tartar is by professional scaling and polishing under general anesthesia. 

 What is the best way to prevent tartar formation after a professional cleaning?

Plaque and tartar can begin forming in as little as six hours after a dental cleaning.  A home dental care program including regular tooth brushing is essential to prevent dental disease in pets.  Never use human toothpaste in animals! Many human toothpastes contain a sugar substitute called xylitol, which is highly toxic to animals.  In addition, foaming toothpaste products contain ingredients that are not intended to be swallowed and could cause internal problems. 

 Why is pet toothpaste recommended?

Pet toothpastes are non-foaming, safe to be swallowed, contain enzymes designed to break down plaque chemically, and are available in flavors that are appealing to pets.  If you use a product that tastes good, your pet will be more likely to enjoy the whole experience.

 Here’s a great video on the proper way to brush your dog’s teeth:


What can I do to help prevent dental disease in my cat?

There are diets that can help reduce tartar formation, but just as with dogs, the most effect way of reducing plaque and tartar buildup is to brush the teeth.  A number of toothbrushes are specially designed for a cats’ mouth.  With gentleness, patience, and perseverance it is possible to brush some cats’ teeth! 

 This link takes you to a YouTube video with tips for brushing your cat’s teeth: