Dental disease typically begins with a build-up of plaque consisting of bacteria, food particles and saliva components on the teeth. Plaque sticks to the tooth surface above and below the gum line and if not removed will calcify into tartar (also known as calculus). This appears as a yellow-brown material on the teeth. Over time the plaque and tartar results in periodontal disease, leading to irreversible changes to the teeth and gums.
Signs of periodontal disease include red and inflamed gums, bad breath, loss of teeth, and if it's bad enough, inappetence due to pain. There is also growing evidence that periodontal disease can be associated with disease in distant organs, including the heart, liver and kidneys. Ultimately, dental disease is more than just a cosmetic issue — it is a cause of significant illness and pain in dogs and cats.