Kimberly S. Cole, DVM
Dogs are diagnosed with dental disease more than any other infection. Most periodontal infections begin simply as plaque which is composed of bacteria, salivary proteins and food debris. Plaque builds up in the space between teeth and gums causing irritation, redness and swelling. After a time, pockets form and deepen which allows bacteria to damage the tissues which hold the teeth in place. Since the blood supply to the periodontal tissues is so great, the bacteria from the oral infection have a clear path to the animal’s blood stream and vital organs. The organs with the highest blood flow are the most susceptible and include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and even the brain. Damage to any of these organs can shorten the lives of dogs and cats.
Prevention of dental disease starts at home and with regular dental exams and checkups. Like people, animals need professional teeth cleaning on a routine basis (usually every 12-18 months). Since even the simplest dental procedures can cause some bleeding of the gums, an antibiotic may be prescribed prior and after a cleaning to reduce and prevent the spread of infection to other organs. Things owners can do at home to help with dental care may include brushing your pet’s teeth as well as giving appropriate chews and special dental diets. Avoid using human toothpaste because it can upset your pet’s stomach.
Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
- Bad breath – one of the first signs
- A yellow-brown crust of tartar on teeth or near the gum line
- Red and swollen gums
- Pain or bleeding when eating
- Decreased appetite or difficulty eating
- Loose or missing teeth
Organs and systems that can be affected by periodontal disease:
A. Brain. Occasionally, bacteria will cross the blood-brain barrier and may cause damage.
B. Mouth. Periodontal disease can cause bad breath and lead to soreness and destruction of the gums, as well as loose or missing teeth.
C. Lungs. Bacteria infecting the lungs may cause bronchial or other respiratory infections.
D. Heart. Periodontal disease may result in inflammation and damage to the heart.
E. Liver. Bacteria entering the liver may result in a variety of liver disorders.
F. Kidneys. Periodontal disease may affect the kidneys by contributing bacteria that cause kidney infection and damage.