Understanding Dental Disease Stages in Dogs and Cats

Roxanne Hawn

Have you ever wondered about the numbers your dentist or dental hygienist calls out while examining your teeth? Veterinarians and veterinary technicians do the same thing when completing comprehensive dental and oral exams on dogs and cats. Those numbers provide important information about the presence of dental disease.

In many ways, each tooth is a patient, deserving of time, attention, and, if necessary, treatment. Each tooth gets its own score on the periodontal disease scale.

Inside the same pet’s mouth, there could be teeth that are 0-1 and teeth that are 3-4. In most cases, your veterinarian is going to tell you about the highest scoring teeth found on examination.

Here’s what those numbers mean:

Stage Zero: The tooth and gums around it appear normal, with no inflammation or possible infection evident.

A zero is definitely something to celebrate. Either keep up the dental care at home or start your dental care plan for your pet so that you can keep things healthy and looking good!

Stage One: The area around the tooth shows signs of gingivitis but not any attachment loss of bone or gum tissue. Left unaddressed, gingivitis progresses into periodontitis, a more serious inflammation and infection.

This is when you may start noticing bad breath in your pet as well as some redness in the gums. Your veterinarian will advise you on starting or increasing at home dental care and possibly suggest scheduling a thorough veterinary dental cleaning and examination to get your pet’s dental health back on track.

Stage Two: Early periodontitis is evident on examination and dental x-ray. Attachment loss is no more than 25%, with early signs of bone loss in teeth with multiple roots, and less than 25% periodontal attachment.

As early as Stage Two, you may see signs of bleeding and pain in your pet’s mouth, including trouble eating, grumpiness if touched in the face or mouth, and reluctance in games like tug-o-war.

Stage Three: Moderate periodontitis is found, with 25-50% of attachment loss, including more significant bone loss.

Things are getting pretty serious at Stage Three, with tooth loss and dangerous infection likely.

Stage Four: Advanced periodontitis has taken hold, with more than 50% of attachment loss and critical bone loss.

Pets with Stage Four teeth likely require multiple tooth extractions and significant dental treatment under anesthesia.

Don’t Make This Mistake

One of the biggest mistakes pet owners make is trying to tackle severe dental disease at home, without first getting a comprehensive veterinary dental examination and treatment. Of course, your pet is going to hate you brushing her teeth if her mouth already hurts.

In many cases, you shouldn’t go gung-ho about dental care at home until all signs of dental disease are addressed by your veterinarian. That way, you’re starting with a somewhat clean slate – making things better and easier for you and your pet.

It’s also the number one reason to start good at-home dental care early in puppies and kittens. Those who learn to accept – and even enjoy – dental care get off to a great start. It’s the best way to prevent dental disease and pain later in life.

Tell us your veterinary dental stories.

Have you ever shared your home with a toothless pet due to dental disease? Are you good about brushing your pet’s teeth?


American Veterinary Dental College Nomenclature Committee

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