How common is it?
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.
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?
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
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.