Gum Disease in Dogs and Cats


Dr. Woody Dudley, DVM

Have you taken a look at your pet’s mouth lately?

Teeth are so important to our pets’ quality of life. They are essential for chewing their food, playing, and exercise. Teeth also serve an important sensory function as our pets’ “fingers”, for touching and feeling.

Gum disease is the number one health condition small animal Veterinarians see every day. Gum Disease or Periodontal Disease is a painful progressive disease of the tooth roots and the surrounding gum, bone, and ligamentous attachments that hold the tooth in place. 90% of dogs at one year of age have some degree of gum disease and it is especially common in small dogs under 10lbs and flat-faced breeds. 70% of cats have some gum disease by 2 years of age. This condition gets worse with age.

Gum Disease is caused by bacterial growth in food particles and oral fluids around the tooth called plaque. In as little as 72 hours plaque begins forming a hard mineralized matrix, usually brown in color, on the teeth, called tartar or calculus. This is why it is so important to brush the teeth daily, in order to break up this matrix. Gingivitis or bloody gums in unbrushed teeth can develop in as little as 2 weeks. When this unchecked bacterial growth continues it produces secretions that damage the attachments around the tooth between the tooth and gum causing bleeding gums or gingivitis, then pockets, then receding gums, then alveolar bone damage and loosening of the teeth, then painful tooth abscesses and eventually tooth loss.

Symptoms of gum disease include bad breath (halitosis), mouth pain, excessive slobbering, pockets between tooth and gum, bleeding of gums (gingivitis), redness of the gums, loose teeth, missing teeth and gum lines lower than normal exposing the tooth roots. Older patients that have never had preventative teeth cleaning by a Veterinarian are particularly susceptible.

Complications of Gum Disease include Tooth Abscesses, Pain, Tooth Loss, Eye damage, damage to the inside of the tooth (endodontic disease), pathologic fracture of the jaw, a bone infection. Oral inflammation from gum disease increases the risk of Oral Cancer as well. Oral infection from gum disease can lead to kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease including valve lesions and heart murmurs, stress on the immune system, and shortened lifespan.

Treatment and Prevention of Gum Disease

Did you know that Gum Disease can be prevented? Tooth abscesses and extractions can be prevented with scaling and polishing once a year combined with daily tooth brushing!

The American Animal Hospital Association now recommends Teeth Cleaning and Polishing beginning at 1 year of age and then every 12 months thereafter to prevent gum disease. Each teeth cleaning should include X-rays and Probing of every tooth every time. Plaque is removed between the tooth and gum with a vibrating piezo scaler under anesthesia which is quite safe and pain-free following a pre-anesthetic evaluation. Tooth brushing daily is recommended at home beginning as a puppy or kitten when it is often well accepted. Vohc.com approved foods, treats, and other oral products are also helpful.

Gum disease video, link to dogbeachvet.com

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