The number one health problem in small animals
Periodontal disease is by far the number one health problem in small animal patients. Small and toy breed dogs are particularly prone to this infection.
- By just one year of age:
- 90% of dogs have some form of gum disease.
- 30% of dogs under 10 pounds are already experiencing bone loss.
- Cats are only slightly more resistant.
- At two years of age, 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease.
What is periodontal disease?
Gingivitis and periodontitis are caused when bacteria form on the teeth in a product called plaque. When the bacteria extend under the gum, they create infection and inflammation and this is what we call gingivitis. Left untreated, the pet often responds by resorbing bone which creates periodontal pockets. These pockets are infected and tend to get worse quickly (a snowball effect). As the infection progresses, eventually the tooth may become loose and require extraction.
Periodontal disease leads to other health problems
But periodontal disease is much more than bad breath and tooth loss. Unchecked periodontal disease has numerous local as well as systemic consequences.
Local consequences include
- oronasal fistulas (nasal infection)
- abscessed teeth
- pathologic jaw fractures
- ocular problems (including eye loss)
- a severe bone infection called osteomyelitis
- increased incidence of oral cancer
Systemic diseases which have been linked to periodontal disease include:
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- lung disease
- heart disease
- increased inflammatory markers
- diabetes mellitus
- early death (as connected to in several human studies)
What to look for
Even though most pets are suffering from periodontal disease and there are many secondary effects, there are generally little to no outward clinical signs of the disease process. Therefore, therapy typically comes very late in the disease, often requiring advanced therapies.
Things to look for in your pet that are signs of periodontal disease include:
- tan/brown/black deposits on the teeth
- red gums
- loose teeth
- gum recession (where you can see the roots of the teeth).
The only other outward sign of gum disease in your pet is bad breath.
“Doggy breath” is not normal.
Surprising, but “doggy breath” is not normal. It is almost always a sign of advanced disease and should result in a visit to your veterinarian. Finally, note that the early signs of gum disease are generally not diagnosed on an awake exam. Therefore, here at VDS (as well as most veterinary dentists) recommend annual cleanings under anesthesia to ensure your pet’s health.
Preventing periodontal disease is very straightforward via plaque control. This needs to be done meticulously on a regular basis to keep the infection at bay. For information on periodontal therapy click here.