You may not think about your pet’s dental health other than noticing she has staggering halitosis. But, if your four-legged friend has breath that knocks you off your feet, she may have a serious dental-health issue. Bad breath is one of the first signs of dental disease, which affects up to 85% of pets by age 3, so there’s a good chance your pet has some level of oral disease.
Dental-disease signs in pets
Pets have come a long way from their wild ancestors, but they still naturally cover any weakness, and are champions at hiding signs of pain, illness, and disease. So, despite your pet’s best efforts to mask her discomfort, look for the following dental-disease signs:
- Thick, ropey drool that may be blood-tinged
- Pawing at the mouth
- Chewing on one side of the mouth
- Dropping food
- Appearing hungry, but reluctant to eat
- Yellow or brown buildup on the teeth
- Broken or discolored teeth
- Red, inflamed gums
- Lumps or bumps inside the mouth or on the muzzle
- Sensitivity when petted on the head
Some pets are so skilled at hiding dental disease that their owners may not realize a problem exists until it requires immediate care, such as a painful fractured tooth or abscess. Prevent your pet from suffering unnecessarily by monitoring her oral health with an at-home dental care regimen that includes toothbrushing, dental treats and chews, and routine checks of her gums, lips, teeth, and oral cavity.
How dental disease affects your pet’s overall health
Poor oral hygiene can lead to much more than simple bad breath and reddened gums. When bacteria-ridden plaque builds up on the teeth and below the gumline, your pet’s immune system attacks this oral bacteria, causing an inflammatory response that kills the bacteria, but damages the surrounding tissue. If dental disease is severe enough, oral bacteria can leak into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, damaging organs, such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. Oral bacteria are especially fond of heart valves, where they set up shop, and can contribute to heart disease.
Dental disease can also make managing your pet’s other health conditions, such as diabetes, more difficult. A heavy bacteria load and gingival inflammation reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, making regulating your pet’s blood sugar a challenge. If your diabetic pet shows signs of lack of regulation, check her mouth, because a hidden dental infection may be lurking.
Some dental issues that require emergency care for pets
While we often look at dental care as preventive, occasionally a pet will experience a periodontal problem that requires immediate care. The four most common emergency oral situations in pets that we encounter at our emergency hospital include:
- Fractured teeth — Dogs commonly fracture teeth by chewing on too-hard objects, such as antlers, bones, and rubber toys designed for power chewers, whereas cats can experience tooth fractures caused by feline resorptive lesions, which erode the enamel and weaken the teeth.
- Dental abscesses — Since dental disease is often silent, the bacteria in plaque and tartar continue to accumulate until the issue comes to a head as a tooth-root abscess. The large upper fourth premolar, or carnassial tooth, which has three deep roots, is most commonly affected. When bacteria become trapped under the gumline around this tooth, an abscess can form, causing a swelling that appears on the muzzle under the eye. These abscesses are painful and can rupture, leaking pus and blood.
- Fractured jaw — A fractured jaw, which can occur in pets for a variety of reasons, including trauma, weakened bone, or systemic disease, is fortunately not the most common dental emergency we see. Small pets with severe dental disease can suffer from a pathologic jaw fracture, caused by something as simple as jumping off the couch. Continuous bacterial infection weakens the jaw bone, which can snap along the midline symphysis.
- Complications from oral masses — Oral tumors, which are relatively common in pets, are sadly almost always malignant. Often fast-growing as well, a mass can seem to spring up overnight or double in size, creating issues with chewing, drinking, or breathing. The mass may split open, or your pet may bite it, causing excessive bleeding that can’t be controlled at home. An oral tumor also is likely to metastasize to other organs, causing more health issues that may become overnight emergencies.
Pets don’t always experience tooth troubles when their family veterinarian is available. For after-hours care during evenings, weekends, and holidays, contact our animal emergency hospital for your pet’s immediate relief.