Periodontal disease is inflammation and infection of the tooth and surrounding structures. It is thought to be the most common disease process affecting our dogs and cats. Some experts say prevalence in dogs may be as high as 90% by one year of age with 30% of small breeds exhibiting bone loss by this time. Unfortunately, such a common ailment can also have severe consequences such as chronic pain, loss of appetite, heart/ liver/ kidney disease, pancreatitis, and diabetes mellitus.
Periodontal disease is essentially an infection of plaque-forming bacteria on the tooth, which can form in just 24 hours. After a few days the plaque begins to harden into tarter on the tooth. These bacteria live in a very isolated microenvironment making them extremely hearty and resistant to even high levels of antibiotics. Consequently, the only way to get rid of the infection is through mechanical removal with professional cleaning. What starts out as infection on the tooth can quickly progress to infection under the gums attacking the attachment of the tooth to the underlying bone and connective tissue. This causes irreversible gum recession, bone loss, tooth root abscesses, sinus infection, jaw fracture, and rarely even eye or brain damage.
Unfortunately bone and gum loss is a permanent change, which is why we recommend regular cleanings–before there are advanced changes. This minimizes the need for tooth extractions, which means your pet is under anesthesia a shorter duration and minimizes the pain and cost associated with tooth removal. In addition they will have a healthier mouth into their geriatric years and have less damage to vital organs from chronic infection in the gingiva.
Along with dental therapy at Apex, at-home cleaning is very important. Gingivitis occurs just two weeks after a cleaning by your veterinarian, which highlights the role you play in your pet’s oral health. Home care a minimum of three times per week (ideally daily) is usually enough to delay the need for professional cleaning. However, if tarter (hard mineralized deposits on the teeth) is already present, then home cleaning will not be effective.
Home cleaning can be accomplished in a variety of ways:
1. Brushing– Brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective means to maintain oral health between professional dental examinations. It is important to start slow and make it a positive experience for you and your pets. Give lots of praise and treats. Begin with a finger, for a short amount of time, and work up to a SOFT bristled tooth brush for a longer and longer duration. Brushes that fit over your finger are a great alternative to traditional tooth brushes. It is also important to remember never to use human tooth paste of any kind, and allow your pet to get used to the taste by licking it off your finger before moving to more aggressive brushing. Most dogs will accept regular brushing with patience, but a dog that frequently resists brushing may have painful areas in the mouth that need to be addressed.
2. Chlorhexidine Rinse or Gel*– These are great as an adjunct to brushing, or for dogs who do not tolerate brushing. They are used daily to help reduce the amount of plaque before it turns into tarter. The rinse is applied by squirting a small amount inside the cheek on each side of the mouth. The gel is applied by smearing it onto the teeth. The tongue and lips will spread the rinse or gel around the mouth.
3. Water Additives*– These are products added to water to be consumed on a regular basis by your pet. They have a variety of actions from fighting bacteria, degrading buildup, and anti-oxidation. The regular use of an approved product is an easy and effective way to maintain oral health.
4. Dental Diets*– These foods work predominately by scraping teeth as they sink into dry kibble, but some also contain an anti-tarter chemical. They can be fed regularly as a maintenance diet and have been shown to be of benefit in decreasing oral disease.
5. Chews and Toys*– There are a long list of products that claim to have positive effect on oral health. Some products work well for this purpose while others can actually cause alignment issues, teeth wear, and teeth fractures. Even the most effect products are only beneficial if chewed regularly and routinely by your dog. This can be encouraged by spreading peanut butter or soft cheese on the toy. Monitor your pets to prevent them from swallowing large pieces which are harmful to the digestive system.
*We recommend products that have the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s seal of approval. Look for their seal on any products you buy for your pet’s dental health; you can also visit their website (www.vohc.org) for a list of approved products.