What is Periodontal Disease?

Daily brushing prevents dental disease and lengthens your dog's life.

By Susan H. Bertram, DVM | Posted: Mon Feb 3 00:00:00 PST 2003

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Can you guess the name of the most common infectious disease in dogs one that threatens the health of more than 80 percent of adult canines?

Is it:

a.) Parvo virus enteritis
b.) "Kennel cough"
c.) Cat scratch fever
d.) Periodontal disease

Hint: The Guinness Book of World Records lists this same affliction as the most common infection in people worldwide.

If you guessed periodontal disease, good for you. It's not contagious like a virus but a harmful bacterial infection that eats away at gingiva (gums) and jawbone. No vaccine will protect against it, but owners can take simple measures to help prevent its causing serious health problems for their dogs. And treatments for serious periodontal problems are becoming more sophisticated and successful. Most veterinarians believe preventing and treating periodontal disease can help dogs live longer, healthier lives.

Why is periodontal disease so common? The answer is simple: Dogs can't brush their own teeth, and few owners make the effort to brush their dogs' teeth either. Most aren't aware of the need for preventive dental care (prophylaxis) until they notice their dog's breath becoming intolerable. "Dog breath" is often accepted as normal when it usually signals advanced periodontal disease. "Once the breath gets bad, it's beyond prophylaxis," said Heidi Lobprise, DVM, diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dentistry, who practices veterinary dentistry in Dallas, Texas. "Those dogs are going to need periodontal therapy."

Take a good look inside your dog's mouth, lifting the lips away and back from the teeth. If you see white teeth and smooth, pink gums, your dog isn't yet affected by periodontal disease. But your dog does have plaque, even if you can't see it, because all animals form this invisible, sticky bacterial film on the teeth, every day. Once these bacteria gain a foothold below the gum line, inflammation of the gums results, termed "gingivitis." The line where gum meets tooth becomes puffy and angry red in color.

Over time, substances in the saliva mineralize plaque into the hard, visible substance called dental calculus, or tartar, which makes teeth appear tan to brown in color. Veterinary dental experts are quick to point out that tartar on the crown of the tooth is not the problemit is the bacteria in plaque that inflict the damage. Tartar merely indicates a longstanding problem with plaque.

As bacterial infection of the gums advances, the gum begins pulling away from the tooth, creating a groove between tooth and gum, known as a periodontal pocket. These pockets favor the invasion of increasingly harmful types of bacteria. Bacterial toxins and inflammation attack and dissolve the architecture holding the tooth in its socket, such as the periodontal ligament and even the jawbone itself. When 50 percent or more of the surrounding support is lost, the tooth falls out. Much of this process occurs below the gum line and out of sight.

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mary   ptld, ME

9/1/2008 4:34:09 AM

good article.

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