Dental Disease Discussion

Categories: Dog Health Care
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Charles Hurty, DVM

Grove Veterinary Clinic

Newport, Oregon

Periodontal Disease in Dogs

This month I am writing about dental disease and periodontal disease in dogs.  Lately at the clinic, we have seen some rather severe cases of periodontal disease; the gingivitis and tooth decay in some of these situations was bad enough to affect our patient’s quality of life.  Dental disease and periodontal disease are the most common clinical conditions occurring in adult dogs and cats, and are entirely preventable.

It is estimated that approximately 85% of our canine companions have some evidence of dental disease and periodontal disease by the early age of three years. As we all know, dental disease describes disease processes that are associated with teeth and their surrounding tissues and structures.  Specifically, periodontal disease is the disease process that is happening below the gum line around the teeth.  Periodontal disease includes gingivitis or reddening of the gum line and periodontitis, which is loss of bone and soft tissue surrounding the teeth.

Unfortunately, other than bad breath (halitosis), there are few signs of the periodontal disease process evident to the owner, and professional dental cleaning and periodontal therapy often comes too late to prevent extensive disease or to save teeth. As a result, periodontal disease is usually under-treated, and may cause multiple problems in the oral cavity and may be associated with damage to internal organs in some patients as they age.

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 resulting in the formation of dental calculus or tartar, which is firmly attached to the teeth. Tartar above the gum line is obvious to many owners, but it is not of itself the cause of disease.

The real problem develops as this plaque and calculus spread under the gum line. The bacteria in this sticky ‘sub-gingival’ plaque start a cycle of damage to the supporting tissues around the tooth.  As the supporting tissues and structures are damaged and weakened, the tooth can become loose and eventually fall out.  As the tartar and plaque build up, bacteria under the gum line secrete toxins, which contribute to the tissue damage if untreated. These bacteria become so abundant and toxic that the dog’s own immune system is overwhelmed and fails to prevent damage to the teeth, gums, and underlying bone.  A true infection of the tissues occurs, resulting in tooth decay, gingivitis, and sometimes loss of the bone surrounding the tooth roots.

The clinical signs of periodontal disease include halitosis, gingivitis, tartar build up, oral pain, and sometimes lack of energy.  The bacteria from these mouth infections can very easily enter the bloodstream and cause a dog to just not feel well in general.  Their immune systems and bodies are under stress as they deal with the bacteria in their mouths and bloodstream.  We have seen many cases at the clinic where a patient’s low energy and lethargy were caused by severe dental disease.  These patients did wonderfully after a professional dental prophylaxis/cleaning was performed to understand and treat the problems associated with their teeth and gums.

You should consult with your veterinarian about the most appropriate steps to ensure your dog’s oral health and to prevent periodontal disease.  Regular dental cleanings under general anesthesia may be necessary to keep your dog’s mouth healthy and his/her teeth clean.  There are several options for oral care that you can provide at home to keep your canine companion’s mouth healthy.  These home care options include special diets, dental treats/chews, drinking water additives, tooth sealants, and even toothpastes and enzymatic sprays.  Which products are the most appropriate for your dog should be discussed with your dog’s veterinarian.

Providing for your dog’s oral health is quite important.  By caring for your dog’s dental care, you can prevent infections that result in tooth loss and pain.  Additionally, research has shown that bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and affect your dog’s vital organs, such as the heart, kidneys, and liver.  Taking extra time at your dog’s next veterinary appointment to discuss dental care can truly make a difference in your dog’s health and life.