February is National Pet Dental Health Month and Dr. Rachel Maloney, from THRIVE Affordable Vet Care has a few pet dental care tips to keep your pets and their mouths healthy!

5 Facts About Pet Dental Care

1. There are 4 types of teeth; incisors, canines, premolars and molars.

2. What you see above the gum line accounts for only about 1/3 of the whole tooth, meaning this leaves 2/3 of the tooth under the gum where disease can hide and you can’t see it!

3. Kittens have 26 deciduous (baby) teeth that are usually all replaced by their 30 permanent teeth by the age of 6 months.

4. Puppies have 28 deciduous teeth that are replaced by 42 permanent teeth.

5. Pets don’t tend to show obvious signs of pain and hide their dental pain most of the time. Dental disease is very painful, even if your pet isn’t acting like it. That is why proactive pet dental care is so important.

Periodontal Disease and Gingivitis

Cats and dogs create plaque and tartar just like humans, which can then become a concrete like substance called calculus. Once calculus is present, it creates a happy environment for bacteria to live in the space between the tooth, gum, and calculus, which then cause further problems. Gingivitis is the term for inflammation of the gums, which may cause swelling, redness, bleeding and pain. It also may lead to halitosis (foul odor of the breath). Once gingivitis is present, it can then lead to periodontal disease, which is deeper in the oral cavity where the teeth are attached to the bone of the jaw and deeper structures. Disease at this level can disrupt the attachment of the tooth to the bone, resulting in loose teeth. You may be able to see loose or missing teeth in the oral cavity, gingival inflammation or gingival recession (where the gum begins to recede and expose the 2/3 of the tooth that should be hidden underneath). Once that is exposed, it can become more painful and create another good environment for bacteria to set up.

Tooth Root Abscesses

Tooth root abscesses most commonly occur in dogs with fractures or periodontal disease of their maxillary (top jaw) premolars. Though that’s the most common, there are other teeth that can abscess as well. The roots of these teeth sit very close to the maxillary sinuses, so if bacteria can make its way through the diseased tooth to the root deep within, it can create an abscess. The abscess usually presents as a firm swelling similar in appearance to a small golf ball under the eye. Pets with tooth root abscesses may be too painful to chew or eat their food, and some dogs may not want to play with their toys. These patients are given pain control and antibiotics and then placed under anesthesia for a dental cleaning, examination and treatment. The standard treatment is removal of the disease tooth via extraction, which then allows for drainage of the abscess. In some cases the affected tooth can have a root canal performed by a veterinary dentist as well, depending on the disease process that caused the abscess in the first place.

Resorptive Lesions

Resorptive lesions are a painful disease in cats in which the tooth itself begins to erode away, most often on the premolars. In some cases, the root itself also disintegrates and loses the clean separation of tooth and underlying bone. Dental radiographs are necessary to classify the type of resorption, and then which type of treatment is appropriate. Usually, extraction of the affected tooth and it’s root is required, but in some cases where the root has already started to disintegrate, it may be appropriate to leave portions of the root.


Stomatitis is another very painful disease that can occur in cats. It is characterized by widespread severe inflammation and resulting pain of the gingiva (gums) either around the teeth or where the top and bottom jaws meet. These cats present with weight loss, excess drooling, foul breath, difficulty eating and difficulty grooming themselves. There is no well understood cause of this disease, however it is suspected that an abnormality of the immune system is to blame. Cats with stomatitis should be screened for FIV and FeLV as those diseases have been implicated as playing a role in these cases. Regular and frequent dental care is required in these cases for initial management, as it is thought that these cats are over responding to the bacteria and plaque. Sometimes antibiotics or steroids can be helpful for short term use in these cases, but they are not appropriate for long term care and management. Your veterinarian may also discuss partial or full mouth extractions as this can be the most helpful treatment in a large number of cases. It may seem radical, but if there are no teeth or plaque to incite an inflammatory response, some cats will do very well with this treatment.

Dental Care

Some pet dental care you can do at home, including brushing teeth and giving approved dental chews. If you are using dental care products at home, it is recommended you look for the V.O.H.C. seal, which stands for the Veterinary Oral Health Council. Other dental care will need to be performed under anesthesia with your local veterinarian. Because so much of the tooth is beneath the gum line, it is imperative that your pet go under anesthesia to allow for the most thorough examination that includes dental radiographs (X-Rays of the teeth) of all of the bone and space that isn’t visible. It is also important to understand that your veterinary team may be able to identify loose or fractured teeth before the anesthetized exam, however they will not be able to give you definitive exam findings until after your pet is under anesthesia and the full exam has been completed including checking for pockets. After an exam and dental radiographs are taken, your veterinary team will scale and then polish all surfaces of teeth that are healthy enough to remain. The subgingival scaling will be able to remove plaque formation from the surface of the tooth where it meets the gum line to get a deep clean. When teeth are scaled, they are left with microscopic indentations and a rough surface, which then can leave them prone to creation of more plaque, so all scaling must be followed by a thorough polish, just like in human dentistry. The polish smooths out the surface of the tooth. Any teeth that are loose, have gingival recession or root exposure, are fractured, or have resorptive lesions should be extracted. It may sound scary to remove your pets teeth, but they usually chew and eat better that you would think since the diseased teeth causing pain are no longer present! Depending on the size of the tooth extracted, your veterinarian may use a synthetic bone graft to place in the hole that is left. Any sutures placed will be dissolvable, so your pet will not need a suture removal, but it is always recommended to recheck about a week later to ensure the gum has healed appropriately. As with any incision whether it is on the skin or in the mouth, your pet may experience dehiscence (opening or disruption of the closure of the incision). After dental cleanings, it is extremely important that you maintain an oral care routine at home to minimize the return of plaque and subsequent disease.

Make sure your pet’s dental health THRIVEs!

If your pet is experiencing certain diseases or dental problems, there are specialized veterinary dentists available that can perform work like root canals as well. You can always ask your local veterinarian if your pet should seek care of a specialized dentist. It is recommended your pet be seen annually for an overall wellness exam including an oral exam, however if your pet has had any significant dental disease in the past, it may be best to have an oral exam performed every 6 months. Call your local THRIVE veterinarian today to discuss pet dental care for your dog or cat!