Dr Joanna Bronson
Dental issues are a constant concern as they can cause problems elsewhere in a pet’s body.
Bacterial toxins and harmful inflammatory compounds found in the mouth can spread throughout the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Infections increase the risk of kidney, liver, and heart disease and make it difficult to regulate blood sugar levels in diabetic dogs.
Periodontal disease (gum disease) will have developed in 90% of dogs by the age of 2 years old.
If left untreated, bacteria will damage the gums, bones, and other supporting structures of the teeth. Since bacteria is found mostly below the gum line, even a dog with shiny, white teeth may be affected showing no signs of distress until the disease is advanced.
In the past, dogs did not have access to preventive medicine, and it was not unusual for an older dog to be missing teeth, if he reached his senior years.
Today, veterinary medicine focuses on a preventive approach for fighting disease Modern diagnostics such as blood tests and x-rays can detect early signs of infection.
Periodontal Disease is progressive and travels through four stages. Stage 1 begins with Gingivitis or inflammation of the gums. Obvious symptoms reveal red or puffy gums, gums that bleed when brushing or chewing, and bad breath. If a dog receives the appropriate dental care (regular cleaning), the prognosis for recovery and stopping further damage is good.
If a dog reaches Stage 2, 25% or less of a tooth’s attachment to the supporting structures is lost. There will be mild bone loss with the development of abnormal periodontal pockets from bacterial inflammation.
Stage 2 symptoms will reveal the same symptoms as Stage 1 but may include receding gums. The prognosis is fair, if the dog receives proper dental care.
In Stage 3, 25-50% of the tooth’s support is lost. There will be moderate to severe bone loss and abnormal periodontal pockets. In addition to the symptoms of Stages 1 and 2, there will be moderate gum recession and loose teeth. The prognosis for Stage 3 is fair, if vigilant home care is followed. However, loose teeth will have to be extracted.
When a dog reaches Stage 4, over 50% of the tooth’s attachments will be lost. There will be tooth root exposure, loose teeth, missing teeth, and possibility of pus oozing around the teeth. All infected teeth must be removed.
Plaque forms quickly during a period of 24 hours. After 72 hours, plaque becomes mineralized and turns into dental calculus (tartar). Tartar helps plaque stick and accumulate, which causes inflammation to travel down to the deeper structures that surround the tooth.
Advanced Periodontal Disease can lead to destruction of the bone that supports the teeth and can even cause jaw fractures. Toy dog breeds are most susceptible since their teeth are located close to the edges of their jawbones.
Gum disease can create tooth abscesses which can rupture and form open wounds on the cheeks or chins.
Oronasal Fistulas can develop due to gum disease. These holes pass between the mouth and nasal passages. Dachshunds are especially prone to the formation of fistulas
Even eye issues can be triggered by gum disease. Teeth in the back of the mouth sit under the eyes. Root infections can lead to eye issues and loss of sight.
Just as with human dental hygienists, our technicians are trained to scale plaque, polish the teeth, take full-mouth x-rays, and probe for abnormal pocketing. For the best prevention of Periodontal Disease, annual cleaning is recommended, with problematic cases needing cleaning more often.
These special cases may include dogs with a genetic predisposition to tooth trouble due to certain mouth shapes such as the brachycephalic breeds (dogs with shortened snouts) and those having a maligned bite. Poor dental hygiene is also a contributing factor.
Dogs suffering from dental issues may also show any or all of these signs:
- painful gums
- chewing or smacking their gums
- flinching or pulling away when their gums are examined
- acting more withdrawn or aggressive
- reluctant to play with chew toys
Oral cancers are another concern since infections can contribute to an increased risk of their development.
There are many products available for pet owners to help care for their dog’s teeth at home. However, human teeth products are not safe for use on dogs. Make sure to use products made specifically for dogs.
Diligent at home care and annual cleaning can help prevent Periodontal Disease.
Dr. Joanna Bronson of Bronson Veterinary Services, located at 452 W. Central Road, Coldwater. Contact her at (517) 369-2161 or visit www.bronsonvetservices.vetstreet.com.