Bubba is a brown pit bull or pit bull terrier mix looking up at the camera with a happy smile.

Understanding and Managing Periodontal Disease in Pets

Reading Time: 3 MIN

Introduction

Periodontal disease, often referred to as dental disease, is a widespread concern in dogs, affecting roughly 80% of canines by the age of 3. Smaller breeds are particularly susceptible, frequently developing the disease earlier than their larger counterparts. Early intervention is critical for effectively managing periodontal disease. Ideally, pet owners should schedule professional teeth cleaning for their dogs by a veterinarian between the ages of 1-1.5 years for small breeds and 2-3 years for larger breeds.

  • Treatment depends on severity:
    • Stage 1 & 2: More frequent dental cleanings and possible antibiotics are needed to address infection.
    • Stage 3: Open root planning (deep cleaning) and bone grafting might be necessary to save certain teeth.
    • Stage 4: Extraction is often the only option due to advanced bone loss.

Close up portrait of smiling Asian woman hugging dog sitting on bed in warm sunlight, copy space

Health Complications of Periodontal Disease

This progressive disease, if left untreated, can lead to a cascade of health complications for dogs, including:

  • Bad breath (halitosis): This unpleasant odor signifies bacterial overgrowth in the mouth.
  • Tooth loss: As the disease advances, it can destroy the supporting structures of the teeth, ultimately causing them to loosen and fall out.
  • Jawbone pain: The inflammation and infection associated with periodontal disease can cause significant discomfort in the jawbone.
  • Difficulty eating: Oral pain and tooth loss can make it challenging and even painful for dogs to chew and eat, potentially leading to weight loss and malnutrition.
  • Systemic health problems: The bacteria present in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body, potentially impacting the heart, kidneys, and liver.

Steps to Help Prevent Periodontal Disease

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent and manage periodontal disease in your dog. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Daily teeth brushing: This is vital for maintaining good oral hygiene and removing plaque, the sticky film that harbors bacteria.
  • Regular professional cleanings: These are crucial for removing tartar, the hardened form of plaque that cannot be removed with brushing alone.
  • Veterinary checkups and examinations: Regular checkups allow veterinarians to identify signs of periodontal disease early on and intervene before the disease progresses.
  • Diet: Providing your dog with a healthy diet can contribute to good oral health. Chewing on dental-approved toys can also help remove plaque and keep teeth clean.

It’s important to remember that antibiotics are not an effective treatment for periodontal disease on their own. They target bacterial infections, but periodontal disease is characterized by chronic inflammation. While antibiotics may be used in specific circumstances alongside dental procedures to address infection, they are not a standalone solution.

Male hand holding a dog's toothbrush with tooth gel. Golden Retriever in the background.

How Veterinarians Examine a Dog for Periodontal Disease

When examining a dog for periodontal disease, veterinarians utilize a technique called probing. This involves gently inserting a thin instrument along the gumline to assess the depth of the space between the gum and the tooth. Probing multiple points around each tooth, including between the roots, is essential for obtaining a comprehensive picture of the disease’s progression and determining the most appropriate course of treatment. This may involve scaling to remove tartar above the gumline, dental extractions for severely compromised teeth, and antibiotics in specific circumstances alongside dental procedures to address infection.

In this closeup, a smiling mid adult female vet uses both hands to pull back the upper and lower lips of a yellow lab to examine her teeth.

Key Points for Pet Owners

  • Don’t neglect professional dental care. Small breeds should start professional cleanings at 1-1.5 years old, and larger breeds at 2-3 years old.
  • Antibiotics alone don’t treat periodontal disease. They are sometimes used alongside dental procedures to address infection.
  • Take home-care instructions seriously. Use of rinses, chews, and brushing significantly contribute to prevention and treatment success.
  • Follow-up with your veterinarian as instructed, typically within a few months of periodontal procedures.

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