Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
Dogs and cats are affected by many of the same dental problems as people, including periodontal disease caused by the buildup of plaque. But tooth care -- especially daily brushing -- is one responsibility that many pet owners brush off.
"Periodontal disease is one of the most common problems veterinarians see," said Dr. Laura LeVan, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. In one study, for example, 85 percent of animals receiving routine examinations required dental work.
Bad breath, drooling, inflamed gums, difficulty chewing and loose or missing teeth are all signs of periodontal disease, which can lead to permanent damage to the mouth.
"Your veterinarian is you pet's dentist as well as doctor," she said. "Dental care can significantly improve the quality of an animal's life, because animals experience the same kind of pain from sore gums and toothaches that people feel."
Periodontal disease begins when plaque, which contains bacteria, saliva and food particles, sticks to the teeth and accumulates along the gum line. If the plaque isn't brushed away, it hardens into yellow-brown tartar, or dental calculus, causing gingivitis.
As the periodontal disease advances, the teeth and supporting structures of the mouth may be permanently damaged. The bacteria also can enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body, causing kidney, liver, and heart disease.
"Much of the disease in older dogs may be directly related to the constant low-grade infection of periodontal disease," LeVan said.