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Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Gum dsease is a big problem for pet dogs and cats, but it is a manageable disease for most pets. The photo to the left is of a 17 year-old schnauzer. The oral health is excellent! The owner brushed this dog’s teeth daily, provided appropriate chew toys, and had routine preventive dental cleanings on a regular basis. Gum disease is a manageable disease!



How common is it?

 

Gum disease is the most common infectious disease of the dog and cat! Studies have shown that 85% of all dogs and cats over 3 years of age have some degree of periodontal (gum) disease. Over the years, periodontal disease in pets has increased. Many of today’s diets are con­tributing factors because of their mineral content and soft tex­ture. Also, because today’s pets are staying closer to home, they do not engage in the natural scavenging and chewing activities that would help clean the teeth. Today’s pets are living longer thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, improved nutrition and home care. Because the risk for periodontal disease increases with age, more and more pets are becoming affected.

 

 

What causes it?

 

As with humans, plaque (bacterial deposits) combines with minerals from saliva and food to form calculus (the hard brown accumula­tion also referred to as tartar). Calculus is most visible on the tooth enamel, but it causes the most damage when it ex­tends beneath the gum line and results in gingivitis (gum infections). When the infection involves the root and bony socket, it is called periodontitis. Because of the shape and spacing of the teeth and the chemistry of their saliva, cavities are less common in pets than in humans, but the plaque inevitably leads to gum disease.

 

 

What are the symptoms?

 

Although many pets show no signs of disease in the early stages, symptoms of periodontal problems may begin simply with bad breath. Bad breath is an abnormal condition! As the infection progresses, the gum margins will become red and inflamed. Drool­ing, bleeding from the gums and trouble chewing may also be noticed. Despite the obvious problems of loose teeth, abscesses, and infected receding gums, the most severe damage oc­curs as the infection spreads through the bloodstream to the rest of the body. Slowly and subtlely, bacteria damage the heart, the kidneys, the liver, and the joints. This internal process con­tinues largely undetected until enough damage has accumulated to cause major organ failure that can lead to a premature death.

 

 

How do we do about it?

 

Gum disease can be controlled - never cured!! It is important to begin controlling periodontal dis­ease before irreversible damage has occurred. If the problem is mild, and the pet is cooperative, home care may be sufficient. Brushing will remove plaque, but not tartar. If there is significant tartar accumulation, a thorough cleaning is performed in the hospital under light anesthesia. The first step is to use an ultrasonic dental unit to remove the tartar above and below the gum line. The teeth are then polished smooth to help prevent the rapid return of plaque and tartar. A fluoride treatment is usually applied to harden the enamel and decrease tooth sensitivity. Antibiotics are of little use in gum infections because the bacteria in plaque live in a protective film. Antibiotics are not a substitute for a thorough mechanical cleaning. However, they may be in­dicated during the cleaning procedure to control the bacteria that are released into the body by the cleaning process. Severe infections may require extractions of badly diseased teeth, antibiotic treatment at home, intensive home care, or salvage procedures.



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 Charlottesville, Virginia
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