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PERIODONTAL DISEASE

What is periodontal disease?

The so-called periodontum is the structure surrounding the tooth which includes the gum, the alveolar bone and the periodontal ligament. These structures can become diseased and unable to support the tooth which itself may be healthy. This is Periodontal Disease.

Is the disease common?

It is the most common oral disease. Over 85% of dogs over three years old suffer from periodontitis to some degree. More teeth are lost as a result of periodontal disease than for any other reason. Sadly most of these teeth are perfectly healthy. The condition can easily be prevented if treated in time.

What causes periodontal disease?

The dog's mouth is naturally an unhygienic environment. Bacteria abound. These come from food, grooming and also the dog's innate habits of licking and chewing at feces and other unpleasant substances such as rotting bones. Some of these bacteria actually adhere to the tooth surface to form a layer, initially invisible, which is called plaque. With time the plaque becomes thicker and then becomes mineralized and forms a hard yellowish brown layer we call tartar or calculus. The plaque bacteria also invade the gums causing inflammation or gingivitis which can be seen as reddening and swelling of the gums.

As the plaque builds up the gums recede and the type of bacteria change in nature to become mainly anaerobes (bacteria that can survive with little or no oxygen). This ability allows the bacteria to burrow deeply into the tooth socket causing infection which, when severe, can be seen as pus exuding from around the tooth. Ultimately the tooth is lost.

Is the condition painful?

Dogs do not show signs of toothache in the same way as people. However we know from the change in attitude that occurs following treatment that periodontitis does cause considerable discomfort for the dog. Following treatment years often seem to be shed and a quite sad animal suddenly acts as one bouncing with energy.

Complications

Periodontal disease does not only cause discomfort and the loss of otherwise healthy teeth. The bacteria that have invaded the socket are absorbed into the bloodstream and can set up infection in many organs, particularly the heart. Bacterial endocarditis is a serious heart condition which often improves dramatically following effective dental treatment.

What can I do if my dog has periodontitis?

It is important that all the dental plaque and causative bacteria are removed from the teeth together with any calculus, not only on the visible crown but also from below the gums where the tartar and bacteria are actively invading the socket. This involves general anesthesia which obviously in an elderly or sick dog can involve some risk.

Under the anesthetic the teeth are carefully cleaned and all the calculus and plaque is removed. The teeth are then polished which is an important part of the procedure to reduce the reoccurrence of plaque as much as possible. Any loose teeth are removed and if necessary antibiotics prescribed. Your veterinarian should also discuss home care with you since this will do much to prevent recurrence of the condition which would involve further anesthetics and fairly costly dental procedures. Ideally the most effective home care involves daily tooth cleaning but if this is impractical various other measures designed to help oral hygiene will be explored.

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