The Perils of Periodontal Disease

Just like you, your dog needs his teeth brushed every day.

By | Posted: Thu Apr 3 00:00:00 PST 2003

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Jack Russell TerrierMore than just morning breath, bad breath in your dog serves as a red warning flag. Something is wrong in your dog's mouth, and the most likely culprit is periodontal disease. Experts estimate that more than 80 percent of domestic dogs older than 3 years suffer from periodontal disease, which includes plaque and tartar (calculus) buildup, gingivitis, gingival (gum) recession and pocketing, jawbone damage and, ultimately, tooth loss.

The repercussions of periodontal disease extend beyond mere aesthetics. Bacteria that cause gingivitis can enter a dog's bloodstream and produce serious disease in vital organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. Unfortunately, most pet owners don't spend a lot of time looking in their dogs' mouths, and they may not realize a problem exists until periodontal disease is quite advanced.

Until recently, conventional wisdom said the absence of a wild-type diet - including hard bones and stringy tendons to help clean teeth naturally contributed to periodontal disease in domestic dogs. But a study by Dr. Cecilia Gorrell, published last year in the proceedings of a veterinary conference, dispels the myth that wild canines do not suffer from periodontal disease. Dogs that chew harder foods may build up plaque and tartar more slowly, but a crunchy diet alone will not prevent periodontal disease.

Owners play a critical role in ensuring their pets' oral health, said Milinda Lommer, DVM, who is working toward board certification in veterinary dentistry at the University of California, Davis. "The primary reason domestic dogs develop periodontal disease is a lack of care of the teeth at home," she said.

Other contributing factors include genetics and breed conformation, said Kenneth Lyon, DVM, a board-certified veterinary dentist who operates a veterinary dental referral center in Tucson, Ariz. "Short-nosed breeds and toy breeds tend to have crowding of teeth which favors plaque accumulation," he said. "Breeds with long hair around the mouth, such as Schnauzers, or dogs that constantly breathe with their mouths open, like Yorkies, have drier mouths, which also contributes to the problem."

While you can't do much to alter the genetics or anatomy of your dog's mouth, you can and should take an active role in the preventive care of its teeth. "The gold standard for at-home care is daily brushing," said Bill Rosenblad, DVM, veterinary resident in the veterinary dentistry department at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's not enough to just schedule a dental prophy under anesthesia once a year. Without appropriate home care, there will be progression of periodontal disease, with systemic effects and possibly tooth loss."

Palatable enzymatic veterinary toothpastes, designed to be swallowed, create chemical antibacterial and anti-plaque effects. If you get around to brushing your dog's teeth only once or twice a week, however, you'll have little effect on slowing periodontal disease. Research has shown that plaque buildup can produce gingivitis in as little as 48 hours. Once the soft plaque has mineralized into tartar, it must be removed by scraping.

Getting your dog accustomed to having its teeth brushed may take some time. If your dog refuses your initial attempts to work within its mouth, a veterinary visit may be needed to create a clean slate for your efforts. You also may need to slowly train the dog to accept your hands in its mouth. Begin by touching its muzzle, work up to its lips, then try running your finger along its teeth. Praise and rewards work wonders, and remember to stop before the dog shows fear. The process may take weeks or months to overcome hard-core resistance, but your daily efforts guarantee the good health of your pet.

Dog owners whose hectic lives preclude daily brushing still can offer their pets special anti-plaque or tartar-control treats, such as enzymatically treated rawhide strips, and tartar-control edible biscuits. New dog food is also on the market specifically designed to help dental hygiene.

Periodic professional cleaning of your dog's teeth will still be necessary, no matter how diligent your home care routine. Experts emphasize the importance of ultrasonic scaling and polishing versus hand-scaling of tartar. "Hand-scaling knocks off the visible tartar and looks pretty but hides the underlying problem, which is bacteria or plaque," Dr. Lommer said. "Hand-scaling also produces microetches in tooth enamel, so plaque builds up even faster. It's actually worse than if you did nothing."

High-Tech Treatment
Ultrasonic scaling removes plaque above and below the gum line. It has been shown to actually kill the bacteria that cause periodontal disease, so you should verify that your veterinarian will be using ultrasonic equipment on your dog. Also check that a power polisher is used after scaling to smooth out the tooth surface and discourage plaque retention. The use of antibiotics in treating periodontal disease is somewhat controversial but may be prescribed to reduce bacterial infection of the gums. Referral to a veterinary dentistry specialist is necessary in severe cases of periodontal disease.

Palatable enzymatic veterinary toothpastes, designed to be swallowed, create chemical antibacterial and anti-plaque effects. If you get around to brushing your dog's teeth only once or twice a week, however, you'll have little effect on slowing periodontal disease. Research has shown that plaque buildup can produce gingivitis in as little as 48 hours. Once the soft plaque has mineralized into tartar, it must be removed by scraping.

Getting your dog accustomed to having its teeth brushed may take some time. If your dog refuses your initial attempts to work within its mouth, a veterinary visit may be needed to create a clean slate for your efforts. You also may need to slowly train the dog to accept your hands in its mouth. Begin by touching its muzzle, work up to its lips, then try running your finger along its teeth. Praise and rewards work wonders, and remember to stop before the dog shows fear. The process may take weeks or months to overcome hard-core resistance, but your daily efforts guarantee the good health of your pet.

Dog owners whose hectic lives preclude daily brushing still can offer their pets special anti-plaque or tartar-control treats, such as enzymatically treated rawhide strips, and tartar-control edible biscuits. New dog food is also on the market specifically designed to help dental hygiene.

Periodic professional cleaning of your dog's teeth will still be necessary, no matter how diligent your home care routine. Experts emphasize the importance of ultrasonic scaling and polishing versus hand-scaling of tartar. "Hand-scaling knocks off the visible tartar and looks pretty but hides the underlying problem, which is bacteria or plaque," Dr. Lommer said. "Hand-scaling also produces microetches in tooth enamel, so plaque builds up even faster. It's actually worse than if you did nothing."

High-Tech Treatment
Ultrasonic scaling removes plaque above and below the gum line. It has been shown to actually kill the bacteria that cause periodontal disease, so you should verify that your veterinarian will be using ultrasonic equipment on your dog. Also check that a power polisher is used after scaling to smooth out the tooth surface and discourage plaque retention. The use of antibiotics in treating periodontal disease is somewhat controversial but may be prescribed to reduce bacterial infection of the gums. Referral to a veterinary dentistry specialist is necessary in severe cases of periodontal disease.

 

 
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skiw9748   Hartford, AL

1/1/2013 9:27:03 AM

Thanks !

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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

12/23/2012 3:59:59 AM

Very informative article!

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