Dental Disease


A dog with severe dental disease.


Most pets with painful dental conditions do not show clinical signs that are obvious to the owner, but this does not mean that they are not feeling pain. They cannot tell you about the pain. In the wild, animals tend to hide signs of illness or weakness – dogs and cats posses this instinct.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show some signs of gum disease by age three. In spite of this important statistic, oral hygiene is one of the most overlooked areas of medical care for animals. As we increase our knowledge of animal health we realize that proper dental care does not just make your pet’s breath smell better; it is mandatory for your pet’s long term quality of life.

A dental x-ray of a dog’s mouth. Look how long those roots are!

Symptoms of dental disease can range from subtle to extreme. One of the most common symptoms is bad breath (halitosis). Sometimes a pet with dental disease will cry in pain when you touch it anywhere near its muzzle.  Another symptom is a partial or complete inability to eat (anorexia).  A pet that has this problem may eagerly go to the food bowl, and either just look at the food or drop the food out of its mouth after only a few bites. Other pets might drool from one or both sides of the mouth.  Unfortunately, many pets do not show any symptoms until the problem is well entrenched and we have a difficult time correcting the problem.


The  4 stages of periodontal disease. 

  • The first stage occurs when bacteria cause an invisible film of plaque to form on the teeth.  The bacteria react with minerals and other debris that accumulate in the oral cavity, eventually causing tartar.
  • Gingivitis appears prior to tartar formation. It is seen as the reddened gum along this canine tooth.  Since the gingiva are the first line of defense for the tooth against bacteria, any gingivitis is considered significant. This pet should be treated now before the problem progresses to more advanced periodontal disease.

    Stage 1 Dental Disease


  • A tooth that starts with the tartar of the above teeth will rapidly progress to this more advanced state, which is Stage II periodontal disease. The underlying gum is more inflamed and is pulled further away from the tooth. 
  • As the periodontal disease progresses tartar buildup also continues. The underlying gum is pulled further away from the tooth, and Stage III periodontal disease is present. The pocket of bacteria under the gumline in this tooth is significantly weakening the periodontal ligament and weakening the bone of the jaw.
Stage 3 Dental Disease


  • Here is another dog with a similar problem. The tartar is so thick that it is literally holding the teeth in place!  Notice how far up the inflamed gums are.  In Stage IV periodontal disease the tartar can be so extensive that it is the only thing holding the teeth in the socket in some cases.
Stage 4 Dental Disease
Due to the severe dental disease, this cat will undergo a procedure to remove all the teeth that remain.


  • Stage III periodontal disease eventually progresses to Stage IV periodontal disease.  This tooth shows advanced periodontal disease as evidenced by the ulcerated gums (blue arrow), pus along the gum line, and severe tartar.  When this happens your pet will experience pain and will become internally ill from the bacteria spreading to internal organs via the bloodstream. Pet’s with this problem are in jeopardy of internal organ failure.
Stage 4 Dental Disease



The heart is one of the main internal organs affected in advanced dental disease, because bacteria from the mouth infection can readily deposit on the heart valves (especially the mitral valve).  In addition to heart (cardiac) problems, dental disease can affect the kidneys  and the liver.  These are both vital organs, and require a pet free from dental problems if they are to function properly.

Proper care of your pet’s teeth at home is vital!  Daily brushing is recommended, but brushing a time or two a week still has amazing benefits.  There are also toys, treats and other items that can help aid in the prevention of dental disease.  Think your pet needs a dental cleaning?  Call our office to schedule your dog’s appointment today!