Pet Dental Health: Periodontal Disease
One of the most common clinical conditions in adult dogs and cats is periodontal disease, and includes gingivitis (reversible reddening and inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue that surround the teeth). Periodontal disease tends to begin early in a pet’s life, but early signs of disease are not often obvious to pet owners. As a result, they may not seek professional treatment until there is extensive disease and a greater chance of tooth loss.
Gingivitis begins when bacteria build up between the teeth and gums, forming a soft, sticky substance made up of bacteria called plaque that sticks to the surface of the teeth. The plaque quickly hardens into tartar. As plaque and tartar spread below the gum line, their bacteria irritate and cause inflammation of the gums. Small pockets form in the space between the gums and teeth, trapping food and bacteria. Once plaque has hardened into tartar and has begun to grow in thickness, dental instruments are necessary to remove it.
As the inflammatory process progresses over long periods, periodontitis develops. As the gum infection worsens, it may cause damage to the supporting tissues of the tooth and eventually result in tooth loss. Severe infections may require a gingivectomy, which involves the removal of part of the diseased gum. To allow the gums to fully heal, it may be necessary to remove some or all of the teeth. The importance of a professional cleaning at this stage cannot be understated. Studies have shown that if bacteria surrounding the roots of the teeth enter the blood stream, a condition called bacteremia, pets may suffer damage to their kidneys, heart, and liver.
Bad breath (halitosis) is often the first indication that a pet is due for a dental examination. If there is oral pain, pets may drool, be reluctant to eat, or drop food from their mouth. The gums may appear red, swollen and bleed easily. Pets with diabetes require extra attention, and tend to have a greater risk of developing periodontal disease.
The key to managing gum disease in pets is prevention. Daily brushing of the teeth and frequent chewing activities are effective ways to keep teeth and gums healthy. Regular veterinary dental examinations help determine when periodic professional scaling and cleanings may be necessary to maintain the oral health of pets, particularly as they age. Since each pet is different, a veterinarian can suggest how frequently your pet may require a professional cleaning and offer tips for a regular home dental program.