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Porphyromons vaccine: the new kid on the block

February is National Pet Dental Health Month so I thought now would be a good time to talk about a new topic in periodontal health in dogs: a new vaccine.

Porphyromonas (pronounced "pour-fear-oh-moan-us") is a species of bacteria found in the mouths of not only dogs, but also many other species of animals including humans and monkeys. The Porphyromonas bacteria is special because it is the main culprit in periodontitis, periodontal pockets and perialveolar bone loss. If the name of the bacteria isn't hard enough to pronounce, those other words make my head spin. So let's back up and describe the anatomy of the tooth and jaw to understand how these bacteria cause trouble.

The periodontum is a term for all of the structures that surround the tooth. It includes the gums, the periodontal ligament and the perialveolar bone. The periodontal ligament is not a ligament at all, rather thousands of tiny strands of connective tissue that hold the tooth in the tooth socket. Finally, the perialveolar bone is the bone of the jaw that surrounds the tooth and periodontal ligament.

Periodontitis describes inflammation of any of these structures, either alone or in combination. Periodontitis starts with inflammation just below the gumline between the tooth and gums. If this inflammation continues, pockets develop where bacteria can hide (mainly Porphyromonas). The pockets get bigger and bigger, slowly destroying the periodontal ligament and perialveolar bone until the tooth needs to be pulled. This can be difficult to diagnose by your veterinarian on an exam because the tooth and gum above the gumline appear perfectly normal.

All breeds are at risk for periodontitis and periodontal disease, however certain breeds are considered at higher risk. All toy and teacup breeds such as Yorkies, Maltese, toy poodles, bichons, dachsunds, pomeranians, chihuauahs, shih tzus, as well as the newer designer breeds such as Maltipoos, Yorkipoos, and all the other poos (pardon my language). Larger breeds such as boxers, English bulldogs, collies and greyhounds are also at higher risk.

Recently, a Porphyromonas vaccine has been developed for dogs to prevent the overgrowth of this bacteria. Published studies have definitively identified the Porphyromonas bacteria as the primary cause of canine periodontitis. Published studies on monkeys and mice have proven that a similar vaccine prevents periodontitis and perialveolar bone loss. Although there are no published studies on the efficacy of this vaccine on dogs, preliminary results are very promising.

One problem that even veterinary oral surgeons agree on is that the vaccine does not replace total dental care. The goal of the Porphyromonas vaccine is to help to prevent destruction of structures under the gum line. Total dental care not only includes the vaccine, but also brushing of the teeth (or using approved dental chews), dental cleanings, etc. to help to reduce plaque, gingivitis, receding gums, etc.

So, remember to talk to your veterinarian about a total dental care package for your dog so that we can keep these guys (and gals) smiling.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 12 years and is pictured with his son Matthew, as well as the newest member of the family, Jasmine, a Labrador retriever.

Author: 
Matthew Kearns, DVM