periodontalPeriodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs and cats, and it is entirely preventable. By three years of age, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will have some evidence of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease begins when bacteria in the mouth form a substance called plaque that sticks to the surface of the teeth. Subsequently, minerals in the saliva harden the plaque into dental calculus (tartar), which is firmly attached to the teeth. Tartar above the gum line is obvious to many owners, but is not of itself the cause of disease. The real problem develops as plaque and calculus spread under the gum line. Bacteria in this ‘sub-gingival’ plaque set in motion a cycle of damage to the supporting tissues around the tooth, eventually leading to loss of the tooth. Bacteria under the gum line secrete toxins, which contribute to the tissue damage if untreated. These bacteria also stimulate the animal’s immune system. The initial changes cause white blood cells and inflammatory chemical signals to move into the periodontal space (between the gum or bone and the tooth). The function of the white blood cells is to destroy the bacterial invaders, but chemicals released by the overwhelmed white blood cells cause damage to the supporting tissues of the tooth. Instead of helping the problem, the patient’s own protective system actually worsens the disease when there is severe build-up of plaque and tartar.
Periodontal disease includes gingivitis (inflammation and reddening of the gums) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth). There is a wide range in the appearance and severity of periodontal disease, which often cannot be properly evaluated or treated without general anaesthesia for veterinary patients. Effects within the oral cavity include damage to or loss of gum tissue and bone around the teeth, development of a hole (‘fistula’) from the oral cavity into the nasal passages causing nasal discharge, fractures of the jaw following weakening of the jaw bone, and bone infection (‘osteomyelititis’). Periodontal disease is graded out of 1 to 4 with 4 being the most severe * see reverse for diagram

There are signs you can watch for that would indicate the presence of periodontal disease. These include:

Difficulty chewing or reluctance to eat

Dropping food

Pawing at the mouth

Mouth sensitivity

Persistent bad breath

The long term affects of periodontal disease on your pet

all these bacteria are not only creating havoc in your pet’s mouth. They are also busy attacking your pet’s organs. Once the gum becomes irritated, the bacteria will access the pet’s bloodstream through the inflamed gum tissue. They throughout your pet’s body settling into their heart, kidneys, liver, and joints. Your pet’s immune system works hard to fight off the attackers but because of the constant flow of bacteria it is nearly impossible. Dogs and cats with untreated periodontal disease are much more likely to suffer from heart, liver, kidney and/or joint disease and live shorter lives.

DentalTreatment and prevention of periodontal disease

If your pet has tartar or large amounts of plaque present, professional dental cleaning is required, which includes a thorough oral examination, scaling and polishing. Abnormalities found are recorded on a dental chart. Dental radiographs are required to correctly diagnose and assist in treatment of patients with extensive disease. When periodontitis is present, several treatment options may be employed to save the teeth and/or severely involved teeth should be extracted.

Home oral hygiene can improve the periodontal health of the patient. Implementing home oral hygiene at a young age can help the pet accept life-long oral care. Consult our veterinarians about proven home oral hygiene strategies that can be employed to help maintain your pet’s dental health.