Periodontal disease: An epidemic in dogs and cats

Periodontal disease affects more than 80% of dogs and cats over the age of 3 years. It starts with plaque accumulation on the teeth. Plaque is 70% bacteria. It is the “sticky” stuff on your teeth every morning. When plaque is not removed with toothbrushing, it combines with minerals and proteins in the saliva and turns into hard tartar. The tartar traps oral bacteria at the gum line causing bad breath. The trapped bacteria leads to painful infections, loosening of attachments, bone loss and eventual tooth loss. Genetics play a big role in determining which pets are affected and to what extent by periodontal disease. 

It is very common to have significant periodontal disease present with only minimal tartar present. If the body doesn’t tolerate the normal oral bacterial flora, gingivitis can quickly progress to periodontal disease. The presence of tartar alerts us to disease but its absence doesn’t tell us all is well. This young Yorkie’s x-rays showed significant end-stage periodontal disease and yet the teeth were not heavily affected by tartar. This particular dog showed NO signs of pain that the owner recognized, yet after numerous extractions, the owner noted significant improvement in the pet’s attitude and behavior.

Small-breed dogs are affected more often than larger breeds; this may be due to the spacing of teeth in the mouth as well as genetic factors regarding the immune system and normal response to oral bacteria. Risk factors such as increasing age, changes in general health, plaque/tartar composition and lack of home dental care increase the likelihood of periodontal disease. 

What can we do to treat periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is addressed with a Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment procedure (COHAT). During this procedure, the teeth are thoroughly cleaned above and below the gum line, the teeth are probed and evaluated for disease and then full mouth radiographs are taken to assess the teeth below the gum line. Any diseased teeth are extracted or treated and the remaining teeth are polished.

To learn more about this process and to see before-and-after photos, visit our Dental Care page.  

What can we do to prevent periodontal disease?  

The best defense for periodontal disease is a good offense. Annual or semi-annual professional COHATS are often needed for susceptible individuals. But preventing problems from forming in the first place is achieved with frequent tooth brushing at home. Plaque forms within hours and is a constant irritant to tissues, thus it necessitates daily brushing to prevent future tartar buildup. Teaching kids to brush pets’ teeth can help to teach the importance of teeth brushing for themselves as well as aid the pet. If you are unable to brush your pet’s teeth, expect to have more frequent dental cleanings-many pets need to come in once a year.

Another preventative aid is a sealant called Oravet. Oravet is applied to clean tooth surfaces and forms a barrier to prevent attachment of bacteria. This is applied weekly and can be done in conjunction with brushing.

Finally, there are special diets that aid the body’s natural defenses to reduce plaque and tartar build-up. T/d is a large kibble food that shears against the tooth surface helping to remove plaque. 

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