Pet Corner

Keep Your Pet’s Teeth and Gums Healthy

| November/December 2005

For most creatures, the mouth is a primary gateway to the outside world; the health of your pet’s oral cavity, including its teeth, is vital for the maintenance of whole-body health. A pet’s (particularly a dog’s) mouth is a primary site of disease. Periodontitis (inflammation of the tissues surrounding a tooth) and dental calculus (an accumulation of mineral salts on teeth) are respectively the No. 1 and 2 problems seen in companion animals older than 7.

It has been estimated that periodontal disease is present in 50 to 80 percent of all dogs, and the incidence may reach 95 percent in dogs older than 2 to 3. And cats suffer similar tooth and mouth problems. The teeth of other animals, including horses and rabbits, continue to grow throughout the animal’s lifetime, and if they are allowed to overgrow or to grow at an abnormal angle, they actually can prevent the animal from chewing properly.

Furthermore, mouth disease can extend from the local area to result in ailments that affect other organ systems, possibly because buildup on the teeth and gums can house toxins that facilitate other diseases (researchers have isolated endotoxins from calculus residues on dogs’ teeth). There is evidence that periodontitis also predisposes animals to a number of diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease. And there is anecdotal evidence that dental disease also may be responsible for other chronic diseases such as arthritis.

Unfortunately, when it comes to pointing the finger of blame for much of our pets’ dental problems, in the words of that imminent health professional, Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” We have created at least a two-fold problem. First of all, commercial foods are typically soft and they don’t cleanse teeth effectively. Secondly, we often breed our pets for appearance rather than function, and the result may be mouths in which the teeth can’t grow into the natural alignment that allows for a normal bite.

Prevent a Common Pet Problem

Periodontal disease is the general term used to denote diseases of the periodontium (tissues surrounding the teeth), and it includes gingivitis, periodontitis and periodontal abscesses. Periodontal disease is by far the most common oral disease found in all species and is arguably the most common disease condition seen in a small animal veterinary practice. The severity of periodontal disease correlates with the quantity of plaque and calculus present on the teeth, as well as with the age of the animal.

Plaque is a soft, colorless mass, found on tooth surfaces, starting at the crown and extending deep down into the sulcus (the groove or “trench” that surrounds a tooth). Plaque requires special dyes to visualize, and it is not a food residue; rather, it is a thin film of several bacterial species. A soft diet does, however, induce more plaque formation and higher levels of gingivitis than does a hard diet. Unless it is removed, plaque formation is extensive after a day or two — further reason for daily brushings and offering hard foods (or bones) on a frequent basis.



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