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Top 5 Things Pet Owners Need to Know about Periodontal Disease

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The term periodontal translates to perio which means “around” and odontal which means “tooth”. Periodontal disease is the loss of the support structures around teeth, such as gums, jaw bones, ligaments, and tooth sockets. This is caused by oral bacteria, plaque, and tartar that lead to inflammation. Often, periodontal disease results in chronic pain and infection, as well as bad breath and tooth loss. Since this disease is the number one medical problem in dogs and cats, our Dentistry & Oral Surgery Service wants to share the top five things pet owners should know about periodontal disease! Usually, “top five” lists are in reverse order, but this time, the number one thing we want pet owners to know is so important that it goes first!

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1. Periodontal Disease is Preventable. 

That’s right – periodontal disease is absolutely preventable! But prevention means starting now to improve the life of your furry family member and save money in the long run. Begin at day one with puppies, kittens, or newly adopted pets to commit to an oral health plan which should always kickstart with a professional dental cleaning with your family veterinarian. As with many things, it is much more cost-effective to prevent periodontal disease than it is to treat it! For example, removing a single deceased tooth can be three times more expensive than annual professional dental cleanings and twenty-five times more expensive than at-home dental care. 

2. Prevention is Daily Oral Hygiene. 

So how does one prevent periodontal disease? With daily oral hygiene! This is best done by committing to brushing or wiping your pet’s teeth every single day to remove the plaque film build-up. Just like how we humans need to care for our own teeth! Oral rinses and ingredients in pet dental products can also assist with this. It is the mechanical disruption to remove the plaque that makes preventing periodontal disease possible. In addition, your pet needs an anesthetized dental cleaning with x-rays annually. And remember, NEVER use human dental hygiene products on your pets – many of them contain ingredients that are harmful to pets! Learn more about at-home dental care for your dog or cat here. 

3. Periodontal Disease is the Most Common Disease & Occurs at a Young Age.

Indeed, periodontal disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats. In fact:  

  • 85% of adult dogs and 80% of adult cats between 3-10 years of age have signs of dental disease. 
  • By 3 years of age, periodontal disease is present in over 75% of cats and dogs. 
  • Small dogs are five times more likely to be diagnosed with periodontal disease than giant dog breeds. 

So why do so many pets develop periodontal disease? Unfortunately, our pets can’t communicate if a tooth hurts or if their mouth is bothering them. They also tend to hide illnesses so it’s not always obvious if there’s something wrong. Since periodontal disease happens underneath the gumline, there are few signs of periodontal disease other than bad breath that pet parents will notice early on 

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4. Very Early Periodontal Disease is Reversible.

There are four stages of periodontal disease and only Stage 1 (gingivitis or redness of the gum tissue edge) is reversible. This is determined when a professional oral examination and dental x-rays confirm that no other abnormalities are present in your pet’s mouth. So, what’s the secret to reversing gingivitis? Daily oral hygiene!  

If after an oral exam, your family veterinarian says “your pet’s teeth don’t look bad” or “dental care can wait” – ask them what they see (or don’t see) in your pet’s mouth and what you should do at home to improve your pet’s oral health and continue to prevent periodontal disease.

5. Periodontal Disease is Treatable.  

Once periodontal disease has progressed past reversible gingivitis, the treatment goal is to stop further progress of the disease and obtain a healthy mouth. However; loss of support tissues around the teeth cannot come back in most cases. A healthy mouth means no diseased teeth present, so the most common treatment of periodontal disease is to extract any diseased teeth. With a newly healthy and pain-free mouth, pets can then begin an at-home dental care routine to prevent periodontal disease in the future.  

It’s important to note that if periodontal disease is left untreated, it can cause systemic problems that will affect your pet’s overall health. Liver, kidney, and heart disease can develop as the result of both chronic oral inflammation and as bacteria in the mouth spread throughout the body.

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Unfortunately, many pet parents realize the importance of good oral health for their pets after it’s too late to save teeth. But now’s the time to start your pet off on the right paw! We recommend regular dental care with your family veterinarian, which includes an annual oral exam and annual anesthetized dental cleaning with x-rays. And of course, create a daily at-home dental care routine for your pet. Your family veterinarian can help develop a plan that is personalized to your pet’s specific needs and recommend products to use at-home. Oral health affects a pet’s overall health, so don’t push this off – start preventing periodontal disease today!  

Learn more about our Dentistry & Oral Surgery Service and find more veterinary dentistry resources and tips here 

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Elizabeth Brine, DVM, DAVDC

 


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