What is Dental Tartar..and How Do I Prevent it in Cats?

Dogs and cats get most of the dental problems that we can get including dental plaque tartar, gum and tooth disease. First, lets understand the differences between plaque, tartar and periodontal disease and then we will discuss how to prevent them.


Dental plaque is a sticky substance that covers the teeth consisting of bacteria, saliva, food particles and epithelial cells. Plaque builds up on the tooth surface and gum line every day. Left undisturbed the plaque can mineralize, or harden, in less than 2 days, forming calculus or tartar.


Dental tartar is a film that covers teeth consisting of calcium phosphate and carbonate, food particles and other organic matter, or is basically "mineralized plaque". The tartar will stick to the tooth surface forming a scaffold for more plaque accumulation. The continued build-up of tartar both above and below the gum line can eventually produce an environment that is a haven for certain types of bacteria that may be more destructive to the periodontal tissues and also produce a more noticeable odor. This can lead periodontal disease.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, is a very common infectious disease caused by bacteria that make up plaque. This results in inflammation of the structures that support teeth, the gum tissue, periodontal ligament, alveolus (small cavity) and cementum (bonelike connective tissue covering the root of a tooth and assisting in tooth support). Symptoms of periodontal disease include bad breath, and red or inflamed gums. There are other signs of dental disease in your pet that may be more subtle. Dogs may preferentially choose softer foods; play with chew toys less and decline crunchy treats. You may notice your pet chewing more on side of his mouth. He may chew less in general and this sometimes causes the dog to vomit, seen as undigested, poorly chewed food. Increased salivation, pawing at or rubbing the face can be indications of oral pain.

Periodontitis can be seen at almost any age and affects over 80 percent of dogs over three years of age. It is important to realize that some periodontal disease may not be visible to even the most experienced observer. Sometimes the bone around the teeth is lost faster than, or even without, gum loss. A complete periodontal examination, including dental X-rays, is necessary to uncover all types of periodontal disease. Such a comprehensive dental examination requires anesthesia. Larger breeds usually require once-a-year dental exams; smaller breeds twice a year. Complete exams are important to maintaining good dental health.

It is the leading cause of tooth loss and, in human dentistry; periodontitis is called the silent killer due to its destructive nature. The total impact is difficult to measure scientifically, but peridontitis is the number one source of the bacteria that causes aspiration pneumonia in humans. Small amounts of the same bacteria in periodontal disease are released into the bloodstream (bacteremia) when we chew or brush our teeth everyday. The significance of these events is not yet determined. Periodontitis causes tooth and bone loss, which can even lead to jaw fracture.

How Do You Prevent It?

That's easy! Prevention is easy as daily brushing that will remove the plaque and prevent the tartar and eventual periodontal disease.