Dental Disease in Cats and Dogs

Dental disease is any condition affecting the teeth, gums and surrounding tissues. More than 70% of dogs and cats over 3 years old have some degree of dental disease! 

Dental disease is a slow process which develops over many months. The stages of dental disease are:  

1. Plaque

Plaque is the layer of bacteria found across the surface of the tooth and is what makes our teeth feel fuzzy if we don't brush. It develops within a few hours of cleaning and, if left, becomes a thick, visible yellow-brown layer on the surface of the teeth known as tartar. Plaque can be removed by brushing, but tartar can only be removed using a special instrument called a dental scaler. 

2. Gingivitis

Plaque build-up causes inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis. This is seen as redness where the tooth meets gum. Eventually gingivitis will cause the gum edge to lift away from the tooth, creating a pocket in which bacteria can multiply. Gingivitis is sore and can cause the gums to bleed during brushing or if they are knocked. 

3. Periodontitis

Periodontitis is the inflammation and infection of the ligaments and bone supporting the teeth. This develops when gingivitis allows bacteria to invade under the gum-line. Periodontitis causes the tooth roots to become exposed and eventually teeth become loose. Periodontitis will cause chronic pain if left untreated. 

Diagnosing and treating dental disease

The presence of dental disease and its severity can be seen in a clinical exam by a vet or nurse. A complete mouth assessment can only be performed under general anaesthetic even on a very well-behaved pet. 

Pets with mild dental disease, such as no or very mild tartar, will benefit from home care to slow down progression. It is recommended to have a dental check with a vet or nurse every 6 months to monitor dental disease. 

Pets with moderate tartar or mild gingivitis would benefit from a dental procedure to resolve this and prevent the problem worsening. This is recommended to take place within 3 months of examination. Home care is recommended after the procedure to delay dental disease recurring. 

Pets with periodontitis are considered to have severe dental disease and are advised to have a dental procedure as soon as possible. Periodontitis is very painful and leaving it untreated risks infection spreading from the mouth to elsewhere in the body. 

The Healthy Pet Club members benefit from a fixed price dental – speak to your practice for more information.


Please note that the content made available on this webpage is for general information purposes only. Whilst we try to ensure that at the time of writing all material is up to date and reflects industry standards, we make no representation, warranties or guarantees that the information made available is up to date, accurate or complete. Any reliance placed by yourselves is done so at your own risk.

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