We’ve already seen how plaque can build up into tartar, and how this can cause problems for your pet’s teeth. As tartar continues to build up on your pet’s teeth, it can cause inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis.
The tartar doesn’t just stay on the surface of the teeth where you can see it. It also develops below the gumline where you can’t see it. And this is the tartar that really causes the problem. Bacteria in tartar have access to the space between the teeth and the gums and can cause severe inflammation (and even infection) in that narrow space.
Image from Diagnostic Imaging Atlas.
This illustration is a cat with no plaque or tartar build up and normal gums.
Illustration of normal cat teeth. Image from Diagnostic Imaging Atlas.
As the plaque and tartar start to develop, it causes a yellow/brown discoloration on the teeth near the gums. There’s also more that you can’t see below the surface. The gums start to get a little red along the surface of the teeth in early stages of gingivitis.
Illustration of cat teeth with minor tartar accumulation. Image from Diagnostic Imaging Atlas.
As tartar accumulation continues, the teeth turn more brown, especially near the gums. You may be able to see chunks of brown tartar sticking to the outside of your pet’s teeth. As the inflammation from the bacteria continues to get worse, the gums get very red (especially near the teeth). You may notice that your pet is eating slower than normal, or that there is a little bit of blood in their food bowl after eating.
Illustration of cat teeth with severe tartar accumulation and gingivitis. Image from Diagnostic Imaging Atlas.
These are some of the signs of dental disease in pets, and mean that you should call us (or your regular veterinarian) or bring your pet in for an examination. The good news is that gingivitis can usually be treated by a thorough dental cleaning. Some pets may need a few days of antibiotic treatment after their dental cleaning if they have severe gingivitis or any evidence of infections.