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Periodontal disease affects your entire pet
Since February is Pet Dental Health Month, I thought it would be a good time to talk about teeth. I had previously authored an article on periodontal disease and discussed how to prevent it. I will now discuss how periodontal disease affects your entire pet.
Studies have proven that approximately 85 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats will have some degree of periodontal disease by three years of age. Unless the disease is very severe, our noble pets rarely complain — so how does it affect their lives?
Humans can develop dental disease (defects in the enamel of the tooth), as well as periodontal disease. Pets almost always have periodontal disease. Periodontal structures include the gingival (gums), tooth socket (the space that the tooth sits in), periodontal ligament (thousands of strands of connective tissue holding the tooth in the socket) and perialveolar bone (the bone of the jaw that surrounds the tooth).
Within 24 hours of any sort of cleaning a thin film of bacteria, saliva and food (this is called plaque) will accumulate on the enamel of the tooth. If this is not removed via brushing, dental diet or dental treats the plaque will mineralize within 10 days (this is called tartar or calculus). Once tartar takes hold, a shift develops from aerobic bacteria (bacteria that need oxygen to survive) to nasty anaerobic bacteria (those that need little or no oxygen to survive). These anaerobic bacteria secrete toxins that inflame the gums and lead to small abscesses or pockets under the gums.
If left unchecked these bacteria start to destroy the periodontal ligament and perialveolar bone. This is very painful. There have been many pets where I could see that they were chewing on one side of their mouth by the amount of tartar and gingivitis on the other side. I have also had patients that go back to eating hard food after diseased teeth were extracted.
Kidney and liver disease
The liver and kidneys are filtering organs. Although both organs have many other functions, they are primarily filters. Studies show that pets with significant gingivitis will have some bleeding. When that happens, it opens an avenue for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. When these bacteria get to these filtering organs, some of them hang around and form what are called microabscesses. These small abscesses that develop can sometimes grow into macroabscesses and cause significant problems. Even if they do not, it has been proven that microabscesses will destroy small parts of the organ.
Endocarditis and cardiomyopathy
The heart's sole function is as a pump. This perfect pump has both chambers and vessels that run through it. In order to be perfect the heart needs perfect valves to prevent backflow. As bacteria from diseased teeth flow through the bloodstream, some of them attach to these valves. Over time, these bacteria destroy the valves and cause leaks. This is called endocarditis. These leaks then put an added stress on the heart and slowly cause pathology to the muscle itself (cardiomyopathy).
A correlation between periodontal disease and secondary diabetes has been found in human medicine and long been suspected in veterinary medicine. Although no studies have been performed to prove this correlation, it has been shown that diabetic pets with severe periodontal disease and concurrent diabetes are prone to serious (even life-threatening) complications.
So remember, when your veterinarian looks inside your pet's mouth, they are actually looking at their entire body. Take their advice to get your pet's mouth treated.
Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 14 years.