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Dental Tartar, Gingivitis, Periodontal Disease

Dental Tartar, Gingivitis, Periodontal Disease

What is dental tartar?

Dental tartar is composed of various mineral salts, organic material, bacteria, serum and food particles. In the early stages of accumulation, the material is soft, but as time passes, it becomes hard and adheres to the teeth.

How does tartar affect my pet's oral health?

Tartar builds up under the gum line as well as below it. Tartar is visible as a yellow to brown material on the tooth surface, usually near the gum, or gingival line. If you notice that your cat or dog has yellow teeth, we recommend visiting your veterinarian as this early visible symptom could lead to more severe and painful dental conditions.

Continual tartar accumulation causes inflammation and infection of the gums (gingivitis) and eventually recession of the gum tissue and bone, which loosens the teeth. Severe gum recession causes pockets of inflammation deep under the visible gum line, which can expose tooth roots and lead to abscess formation.

Other risks associated with dental disease

Even in mild cases, the breath may become foul smelling and the mouth can be a dangerous source of infection for the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs.

It is currently thought that some of the internal diseases of mature dogs and cats are the result of diseased teeth and gums. The theory is that bacteria can travel through the blood stream to vital organs like the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys.


Professional treatment consists of a complete dental cleaning under anesthesia, antibiotics and removal of severely damaged teeth or abscessed tissue. For more information on the veterinary teeth cleaning procedure, please read our Professional Pet Dental Cleaning article

Prevention Tips

Good home dental care, including tooth brushing, dental health diets and other dental products can reduce tartar formation and gum disease.

  • Tooth Brushing: Since regular brushing is the most important thing you can do to prevent dental disease, we recommend brushing your dog or cat’s teeth as early in life as possible, ideally at a minimum of three times per week. Watch our At-Home Care video for important tips on how to brush your pet’s teeth.
  • Diet-Based Therapies: These are diets specifically designed to help improve oral health and slow the buildup of calculus and tartar. Certain specially formulated dry foods, for instance, help prevent buildup between brushings and professional cleanings.
  • Dental Products and Treats: Biscuits and other hard dental treats can help control calculus accumulation in dogs and cats alike. Chewing aids like rawhide strips offer short-term control in dogs, specifically.
  • Partner with Your Veterinarian: While dental diets and products combined with regular tooth brushing offer a strong foundation for at-home care, we recommend speaking with your local veterinarian to develop a dental care routine based on your pet’s unique needs.

Did you know?

Active Care Plus and Special Care Optimum Wellness Plans include annual dental cleanings for dogs and cats. Learn more by building a personalized preventive care plan for your pet today.