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Most people do not realize the importance of healthy teeth for the long term health of their pet. In fact, until people started to routinely brush their own teeth, the average life span for humans was not more than 40 years. More than 85% of dogs and cats over four years old have some form of periodontal disease, a painful inflammatory condition in which bacteria attack the gums, ligaments and bone tissues that surround and support the teeth. Senior dogs, those seven or more years old, are especially susceptible to periodontal disease. When you bring your pet in for his/her annual examination, we will check out the teeth and tell you if we think something needs to be done. If left unchecked, bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and travel to major organs, starting infections there and seriously compromising the health of your pet.
Most periodontal infections begin simply enough. Plaque (which is composed of bacteria, salivary proteins and food debris) builds up in the groove between teeth and gums, causing irritation, redness and swelling. Eventually, pockets form and deepen, allowing bacteria to damage the tissues that hold teeth inplace. At this stage, bacteria from the oral infection have a clear path to the animal's bloodstream and vital organs with the highest blood flow are most susceptible to infection: lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and even the brain. Damage to these organs caused by infection can shorten the lives of dogs and cats. It is not uncommon for pets to come in to our hospital with kidney disease or a heart murmur and we do not know where the problem originated. In many instances, if the pet is older, we can pretty much guess that the infected teeth and gums are the reason.
Dentals are usually preformed on animals five years or older. To perform the dental, we have to anesthetize the pet because they will not sit still and let us work. Since they are older, we usually require preanesthetic testing prior to performing the dental to ensure that their liver and kidneys can handle the anesthesia.