What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is the destruction of bone, gum tissue and structures that hold teeth in place. Whilst there are many contributing factors, the underlying cause is a bacterial infection that spreads beneath the gumline.
Is the disease common?
It is the most common oral disease in dogs. 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 natural habits of licking and chewing at faeces 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 mineralised and forms a hard yellowish brown layer called tartar or calculus. The plaque bacteria also invade the gums causing inflammation or gingitivitis 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 may be lost.
"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."
Is the condition painful?
Dogs do not show signs of tooth ache 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.
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 anaesthesia which in an elderly or sick dog can involve some risk.
However today we do have much safer anaesthetics than in previous years and we will be more than happy to discuss this aspect with you.
Under the anaesthetic 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 re-occurrence of plaque as much as possible. Any loose teeth are removed and if necessary antibiotics prescribed. As part of the treatment we will discuss home care with you since this will do much to prevent recurrence of the condition which would involve further anaesthetics and fairly costly dental procedures. Ideally the most effective home care involves daily tooth cleaning but if this is impractical various other measures including diet changes designed to help oral hygiene will be explored.
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