Tieton Drive Animal Clinic

3901 Tieton Drive
Yakima, WA 98902



Dental Disease

Dental disease happens to everyone.  In humans, we brush our teeth at least twice daily and should still get our teeth cleaned by our dentists every 6-12 months.  Dogs don't brush their teeth, and even if you diligently brush your dog or cat's teeth twice daily they will still need regular dental cleanings to prevent advancing disease from developing. 

The story of dental disease starts with bacteria.  Bacteria colonize the mouth and can stick to food residue on the teeth.  As they grow on the teeth they can develop a sticky biofilm called plaque- this creates an even more hospitable environment for the bacteria that is hard to remove.  Plaque is what we are trying to eliminate through brushing.

Once plaque has built up, a brown layer of calculus begins to form.  This is a mineral matrix that is growing on the plaque biofilm laid down by those bacteria.  Once this forms, brushing is no longer going to be effective.  A professional dental cleaning is now needed to take off the calculus and restore the teeth to a healthy and clean state.  The more calculus builds up, the more inflamed the surrounding gums become.  Inflammation exposes blood vessels that allow bacteria from the teeth to enter the blood stream and seed other areas of the body like the kidneys and the heart.  As the dental disease progresses, bone begins to be eaten away around the teeth and they can become loose.  It is helpful for us to divide these stages into different "grades" of dental disease to help us decide what level of intervention we need to pursue.

Grade I dental disease is when the brown layer of calculus just starts to form. The gums are still healthy and no teeth should need to be extracted at this stage. In an ideal world, we would do all of our dental cleanings at this stage and maintain it as often as needed to keep the teeth strong and healthy for an animal's entire life.

Grade II dental disease is slightly more severe than Grade I. A heavier layer of calculus has formed and there is obvious gingivitis. There is minimal bone loss at this stage and no gum recession. This disease is still reversible and no extractions should be needed unless there are fractured teeth or we find compromised roots on x-rays.

Grade III dental disease is where we are no longer in the "disease prevention" mode and are moving into "disease treatment" with our dental cleanings.  These teeth have heavy calculus build up, severe gingivitis, and obvious gum recession.  On x-rays we would be seeing irreversible bone loss around some teeth.  Animals with Grade III dental disease are very likely to need one or more extractions and their dental cleanings will be more extensive than those needed for Grades I and II.

Grade IV dental disease is the most severe level of dental disease. Looking in these mouths you almost see more tartar than teeth. Not only will these patients need many extractions, but some teeth may be falling out on their own. These are painful, diseased mouths and need attention sooner rather than later. It is amazing how much better these patients feel after their dental disease is resolved! And it is also important to follow up at least yearly with Grade I or II cleanings to maintain their remaining teeth and keep them from reaching this severe stage of dental disease again.