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According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have oral disease by the time they’re three years old. It is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets. Common signs of oral disease include tartar buildup, red and swollen gums, bad breath, changes in eating or chewing habits, pawing at the face and generalized depression.

Annual Dental Exam

A veterinarian should evaluate your pet’s dental health at least once per year. We recommend this because bacteria and food debris accumulate around a pet’s teeth daily and, if left unchecked, will deteriorate the soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. This decay results in irreversible periodontal disease and even tooth loss. Ongoing “dog breath” or “cat breath” is not normal! If your pet has ongoing bad breath, contact your veterinarian for a dental checkup.

Dental Grading

Every annual physical examination should include a dental grading of the pet’s teeth and gums. At Wignall Animal Hospital, we use a dental grading scale of I-IV. If you notice any of the signs of grades II, III or IV, contact your veterinarian right away for a dental checkup.

Grade I: Nice job! No sign of plaque or tartar

Home dental care is needed to maintain these healthy teeth and gums. Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly is ideal. There are products available, such as tooth-sealers, rinses and specialty food, that help make home dental care easy and hassle-free.

Grade II: mild gingivitis, early periodontal disease

The gum is inflamed and swollen. You may notice a thin red line along the gumline. Plaque is beginning to cover the teeth. A dental prophylactic cleaning and polishing is needed within the next few months.

Grade III: moderate gingivitis, established periodontal disease

Gums are inflamed and swollen. Mouth is painful and odor is noticeable. Gum pockets allow bacteria to flourish. Moderate amounts of plaque have built up. A dental cleaning to remove tartar is needed within the next 30 days. A tartar-control diet and home dental care are needed afterward for prevention. Extractions may be needed.

Grade IV: severe gingivitis, advanced periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is present; pet has red and bleeding gums. Gum may be damaged by infection and tartar. Pet shows signs of a sore mouth and breath smells bad. Dental cleaning to remove tartar is needed immediately. Gum pockets and extractions are expected. Chronic infection is destroying the gum, teeth, and bone. Bacteria is spreading through the body via the bloodstream, threatening the kidneys, liver, and heart. Extractions and suturing are necessary. A tartar-control diet and home dental care are needed to prevent recurrence.

Dental disease: Dental disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth. It can affect other organs, too; bacteria from the mouth can reach the bloodstream and can cause serious kidney infections, liver disease, lung disease and heart valve disease. Oral disease can also indicate that another disease process is occurring elsewhere in the pet’s body. A thorough physical exam combined with appropriate laboratory tests can determine if this is the case. If you notice any of the oral signs above, contact your veterinarian for a dental checkup.

Dental disease prevention: The best prevention is simple: (1) daily tooth brushing at home, (2) a dental-healthy diet recommended by your veterinarian, (3) annual dental checkups by your veterinarian and (4) professional dental cleanings as recommended by your veterinarian. We provide free toothbrushing instruction at free checkups after each professional cleaning, and we provide free toothbrushing classes every year during February and March to encourage pet dental health.

Helpful resources: To learn more about pet dental health, connect to the resource below. If you have questions or want assistance with any aspect of your pet’s dental health, feel free to contact our medical team.

Avoid Pet Dentistry Without Anesthesia

What to Expect - With Dunner

Ralph's Dental Procedure

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Wignall Animal Hospital


1837 Bridge St Dracut, MA 01826

Clinic Hours

Monday: 8:00AM – 8:00PM Tuesday: 7:00AM – 8:00PM Wednesday: 8:00AM – 8:00PM Thursday: 7:00AM – 6:00PM Friday: 8:00AM – 8:00PM Saturday: 8:00AM – 4:00PM Sunday: Closed