Oral disease is one of the most frequently diagnosed health problem for pets. Since pets hide their disease and pain well, periodontal disease typically does not produce obvious clinical signs to owners until the disease is in advanced stages. Because of this, it is often left untreated. Which is a shame because untreated disease increases the likelihood of the infection moving to other parts of the body potentially causing another serious health problem such as heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and bone loss. Therefore, preventative care and awareness are vital in combating this serious disease.
Periodontal disease is the inflammation and infection of tooth support below the gum line. It is caused by the accumulation of numerous types of bacteria at the gum line, leading to inflammation and infection of tissue and structures surrounding the teeth. Improper dental hygiene is usually the culprit for the accumulation of these bacteria.
There are two types of periodontal disease that can contribute to the inflammation and destruction of tissues: gingivitis and periodontitis.¹ ²
- Gingivitis, or the inflammation at the gum line, is started by plaque and contributes to bad breath. Oral examination may reveal red, swollen, or bleeding gums. The good news is that gingivitis is reversible and limited to the gum tissue. That is why it is best to get it treated right away, before it leads to periodontitis.
- There are several visual signs in a pet that has developed periodontitis: abnormal pocketing between the root of the tooth and gum, gum recession, gum swelling and inflammation along with calculus. Toxins from the bacteria and host immune system increase permeability and breakdown the supporting tissues.² You may notice that affected teeth are loose and contain debris under the gum line. This can eventually lead to tooth loss or require removal of the tooth.
It is important to bring your pet to their annual veterinarian visits for a thorough oral examination. Should periodontal disease be found, the treatment your veterinarian chooses will depend on the severity of the disease. If gingivitis is present, a comprehensive cleaning of the teeth, including above and below the gingival margin is required with further treatment possible.² Gingivitis will most likely return if the plaque and bacteria aren’t controlled with frequent teeth cleaning and at-home care. Periodontitis is also treated with a thorough cleaning, but needs further treatment to prevent tooth loss. The procedures more specialised techniques which your veterinarian will explain or refer to a veterinary dentist to perform. Ultimately, if too much bone loss is present or supportive tissues are lost, then removal of the tooth is warranted. As with any cleaning or oral surgery, antibiotics and pain medication should be used where applicable.
The good news that periodontal disease is preventable if caught early! Some recommendations to help reduce the risk of oral health disease are as follows:
- Routine physical exams with oral exams at least yearly.
- At home oral care maintenance program possibly including dental diets, mouth rinsing, teeth brushing and oral chews.
- Schedule follow-up visits.
- Manfra Marretta S: Periodontal Disease. Saunders Manual of Small Animal Practice 2nd Edition. Philadelphia: WB Saunders; 2000. p. 711-713.
- Aiello Susan E, Mays Asa: Merck Veterinary Manual 8th Edition. Whitehouse Station: Merck & CO., Inc; 1998. p. 136-137.
- Harvey CE: Management of Periodontal Disease: Understanding the Options. Veterinary clinics of North America Small Animal Practice 35:4. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders; July 2005, p. 819-836.
- Holmstrom SE, Bellows J, et.al.: AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association. September/October 2005, Vol. 41; p. 1-7.