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Periodontal disease is the most common oral disease in dogs. In fact, periodontal disease is the most common disease of any kind in both dogs and cats. Studies show that more than 80 percent of dogs by age three and 70 percent of cats by age three show some signs of periodontal disease. Unfortunately, if left untreated, periodontal disease only gets worse, until eventually it undermines the general health of you cat. Bacteria from a diseased mouth can affect various organs of the body and the nervous system. Investigators believe that certain diseases of feline old age, such as diseases of the kidneys and possibly some diseases of the heart and liver, can be attributed to untreated oral disease.
Early Signs: Since dogs are not noted for their cooperation when it comes to mouth inspections, owners can easily miss the early stages of oral disease in their canine companions. There are, however, several signs that, although not exclusive to oral disease, should alert you to the need for a thorough and detailed veterinary examination of your dog’s mouth. Bad breath is certainly one “red flag.” Other indications are when your dog rejects hard, crunchy food; avoids certain parts of its mouth when eating; paws at its mouth; or begins to drool. We recommend regular veterinary dental checkups as part of your pet’s wellness program, which should also include routine physical checkups and booster “shots.” Although oral disease is very common, the good news is that if it is treated early enough – with home brushing and professional prophylactic cleaning – you can do much to reverse its effects.
Periodontal Disease involves the tissue and structures that support the teeth – the gum (gingiva) and the bone (alveolar bone). The disease ranges in severity from inflammation of the gum (gingivitis) to ulceration of the gum and resulting loss of supporting bone structure (periodontitis). Advanced periodontitis leads to the loosening and eventual loss of teeth.
Gingivitis, the early stage of periodontal disease, is relatively easy to spot. It appears as a red line of inflammation where the gum meets the tooth. This inflammation of the gingival (gum) tissue is caused by deposits of plaque that build up on the surface of the tooth beneath the gum tissue. Plaque, a combination of bacteria, food particles, and saliva, is constantly forming and hardening on the surface of the tooth. The high concentration of bacteria (80 percent) in plaque makes it an effective pathological (disease-causing) agent.
As plaque deposits build up, they harden into calculus (tartar) and enlarge the pocket (sulcus) between the tooth and the gum. This enlarged sulcus traps debris and creates a fertile environment for bacterial growth. Saliva, which normally washes out the sulcus, can no longer do its job effectively and clear out the sulcus. Multiplying bacteria invade the gingival tissue. The gums become swollen and are liable to bleed when probed. Fortunately, at this early stage, the teeth have not lost their supporting bone structure. So if gingivitis is detected early and treated promptly, its effects are reversible.
Periodontitis, the advanced stage of periodontal disease, occurs when bacteria, their waste products, and other toxins cause the gums to ulcerate. Over time, an increasing buildup of calculus causes ever-deepening pockets to form around the teeth. Eventually, the alveolar bone begins to erode. Finally, erosion of the gingival and alveolar bone advances to such a degree that the teeth no longer have anything to support them. They become loose and fall out. (These lost teeth are almost always healthy teeth.) Unfortunately, periodontitis is not reversible. But if treated early enough, it can be controlled.
What Can I Do? Plaque forms every 6 to 8 hours. And merely rinsing your dog’s mouth will not remove the buildup. To effectively remove plaque, you need to brush your dog’s teeth – preferably every day. While brushing takes discipline, it doesn’t take a lot of time – no more than 15 to 30 seconds. Admittedly, most pets do not clamor to have their teeth brushed, but most will tolerate it if you set up a routine, stick to it, treat brushing like a game, and always remember to reward your pet afterward.
The Dental Cleaning Procedure: Most dogs are unwilling to sit still to have their teeth cleaned. Your veterinarian will need to give your dog a general anesthetic to carry out a thorough and detailed examination and cleaning. (If your dog is older, don’t put off treating your canine senior citizen because you fear putting the venerable lady or gentleman “under.” Instead, talk with your vet about the anesthetic protocol that is appropriate for your dog’s circumstances.) To minimize the risk of your dog having anesthetic complications please withhold your dog’s food the night before surgery.
After first anesthetizing your dog, the calculus and plaque are removed from its teeth. The veterinarian may also scale the roots of the teeth, smoothing roughened root surfaces to make it more difficult for plaque to adhere. Next, the veterinarian mechanically polishes the teeth and roots, then flushes the sulcus around each tooth. The vet then examines each individual tooth and records the findings. If any disease is evident, the vet either deals with it immediately or plans future treatment. Finally, the veterinarian may apply a fluoride treatment. Fluoride provides four major dental benefits: it hinders the growth of bacteria; it desensitizes dentin and pulp (the sensitive layers beneath the tooth enamel); it hardens tooth enamel; and it helps minimize bone and tooth loss.
Why are Dental Radiographs so Important?
Dental Radiographs allow VMSH to evaluate the bone structure for any existing problems that are not always visible on the surface. They are highly important to diagnosing conditions as well as preventative oral care so your pet can live a longer happier life.
Training Help for Brushing Teeth
Brushing: The Best “Medicine”: Undeniably, canine dental care requires an investment of time and money. But consider the benefits. Caught early enough, periodontal disease is treatable. We know that daily home care slows down the buildup of plaque, which in turn slows down the progression of periodontal disease. We also know that regular oral hygiene makes pets feel better and possibly prolongs lives. But teaching your pet to accept daily oral care is no easy task. Here are some helpful hints for instituting an oral care routine in your home. Remember, the key to teaching your pet to accept anything new is to be patient!
Week 1: Fun Time: Don’t attempt to clean your pet’s teeth yet. In the first week, just accustom your pet to your daily inspection of its teeth. Establish a routine. Every day at the same time, find a quiet place to examine your dog’s teeth. Firmly holding the pet’s head with one hand, pull back its lips and examine its teeth. Make sure you look at all the teeth – top and bottom. Rub your finger along the gums. During this inspection, reassure your dog with calm, soothing words. After the inspection, praise your dog, give it a favorite treat, or play with it for a few moments. It’s important to reward your dog at the end of each session so it associates daily dental care with a pleasurable experience. Hint: Resort to bribery!
Week 2: Practice Makes Perfect: Introduce toothpaste. Use a reputable brand of canine – not human – toothpaste. Human toothpaste contains agents that are harmful to pets if they ingest them. Detergent, for instance, a foaming agent in human toothpaste, is an irritant that can cause gastric problems in pets. Another common human agent, salt and baking soda are not effective plaque removers. What’s more, these compounds contain sodium – which is potentially dangerous to older pets with heart disease.
Week 3: The Real Thing: Introduce your dog to the toothbrush. Let your dog lick some of the toothpaste off the toothbrush. Every day at the same time, rub the toothbrush along your dog’s gums just as you did with your finger during the first week. At the end of each session, tell your dog how swell it is and reward it with its favorite treat or toy. Hint: Don’t rush. Let your dog think it’s his or her idea.
Once you have established a tooth-brushing routine, do the same thing at the same time every day. Hint: Reward yourself as well as your dog! Good Luck!