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Focusing on canine oral health

01 March 2010, at 12:00am

Dr MARIE-LOUISE BAILLON recommends an oral healthcare programme for dogs

PERIODONTAL disease is the most frequently occurring clinical condition in dogs, with four out of five of those over the age of three showing signs of the disease.

The condition ranges from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that supports the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss. 

The initial inflammation is caused by the accumulation of plaque on the surface of the tooth. Plaque consists of micro-organisms and extra-cellular matrix. A film of proteins and glycoproteins is absorbed by the clean tooth surface, and plaque is formed when the bacterial colonisers interact with the film. Calculus is a form of hardened dental plaque.

When the plaque, containing pathogenic bacteria, builds up on the teeth, the resulting toxins attack the gums, leading to reddening and inflammation of the gingival tissue – gingivitis. This is reversible if the plaque is regularly removed, but if left untreated can lead to periodontitis and soft tissue and bone loss. Periodontitis is not simply the result of bacteria; the dog’s own immune defences are also implicated.

Advanced periodontal disease can cause a variety of more serious conditions when the bacteria make their way into the bloodstream. These include heart, liver, kidney and respiratory problems. Periodontitis can also complicate the management of diseases such as diabetes mellitus. Locally, the condition can result in oronasal fistula formation, pain and spontaneous jaw fractures as a result of bone loss. 

Clinical signs

Owners should be urged to check their dogs’ mouths daily for signs of periodontal disease.

These include bad breath (contrary to popular belief, it is not normal in dogs and is usually a sign of an underlying oral problem), gradual changes in behaviour, such as becoming less sociable, less lively or enthusiastic during play, and bleeding gums.

It is also good practice to look for other problems at the same time. Fractured or discoloured teeth and other abnormalities with the soft tissues will be spotted more quickly by an owner familiar with the oral landscape. Given the stoical nature of most dogs, this will allow timely treatment rather than waiting until the pet is in distress.

Encouraging good oral hygiene 

The importance of good oral hygiene and appropriate diets should be communicated to clients at the earliest opportunity, ideally from primary vaccinations and prior to the permanent teeth erupting at approximately six months of age. Oral care regimes in older pets, particularly ones that have experienced mouth pain, can be difficult to implement.

For maximum protection, daily brushing is the most effective means of removing plaque and preventing periodontal disease, although owner compliance may be an issue. Clients should be shown how to brush their pets’ teeth to prevent the accumulation of plaque and they should be encouraged to demonstrate their technique in front of the vet or vet nurse in the consultation room.

A dog owner will need canine toothpaste (without fluoride), a pet toothbrush and water, and brushing should ideally be initiated in stages to enable an animal to get used to the taste of toothpaste and having something put in its mouth.

Chews or toys with scientific evidence of efficacy may help prevent calculus accumulation, gingivitis and periodontitis. The ideal routine includes offering a dog a high quality oral care chew every day.

Pedigree’s DentaStix and DentaStix dental chews are scientifically proven to reduce plaque accumulation by as much as 60% and calculus accumulation by as much as 80% and are a convenient, low fat addition to a pet’s oral care routine.