More than 85% of dogs and cats older than four years have periodontal concerns. There are four periodontal types of tissue: the gingiva (gum), cementum, periodontal ligament, and alveolar supporting bone.
Periodontal disease starts when plaque forms; plaque is a transparent adhesive fluid composed of mucin, sloughed epithelial cells and aerobic, and gram positive cocci. Plaque starts forming two days after dental cleaning. If the plaque is not removed, mineral salts in the food can precipitate to form hard dental calculus. The calculus is irritating to the gingival tissue, changing the pH of the mouth and allowing bacteria to survive subgingivally. By-products of these bacteria “eat away” at the tooth’s support structures, eventually causing the tooth to be lost in some cases.
There are two common grading systems commonly used to classify the degree of periodontal disease. The mobility index evaluates the looseness of the tooth. With Class I mobility, the tooth moves slightly. Class II is when a tooth moves less than the distance of its crown width. With Class III mobility the tooth moves a distance greater than its crown width. Class III teeth have lost more than 50% of their support and in most cases should be extracted.
Periodontal disease can also be staged:
- Stage 1 gingivitis
- Stage 2 early periodontitis-less than 25% support loss
- Stage 3 established periodontitis- between 25%-50% support loss
- Stage 4 advanced periodontitis- greater than 50% support loss (tooth loose to the touch)
When periodontal disease is not treated, subgingival bacteria can continue to reproduce, creating deeper periodontal pockets through bone destruction. Eventually, this progression can cause tooth loss and other internal medicine problems. Studies show, due to the spread of infection from periodontal disease through the body, pets with dental problems have their life shortened by 2-3 years. The bone infection can also weaken the jaw, leading to jaw fracture. This ongoing infection also causes pain, which often is mistaken for an older dog becoming a “picky eater”, “cranky” or overall “slowing down” in their activity level.