Periodontal disease or periodontitis is an ailment that develops over time. It starts with the teeth, slowly affects the gums, and eventually may even lead to bone loss. it is a painful disease, that can adversely affect a dog's health, as it hinders their capability to eat.
If food particles remain in the mouth, along with bacteria, they collect along the gum line forming plaque. Over a period of time, the plaque combines with minerals in the saliva and forms tartar (or calculus), which attaches itself firmly to the teeth. Plaque starts to mineralize 3 - 5 days after it forms. Tartar irritates the gums and leads to the inflammation, also called gingivitis. These initial stages of periodontitis are marked with mouth odor, brownish deposits on the back teeth, and a thin margin of redness along the gum line.
If the tartar is not removed, it builds up under the gums and separates them from the teeth. The space created form 'pockets' and encourages even more bacteria to grow. At this point, the damage is irreversible, and called 'periodontal' disease. As the disease progresses, the symptoms that the dog exhibits include purulent exudate (pus) around the tooth, bleeding gums, loose or missing teeth, loss of appetite, stomach or intestinal upsets, difficulty chewing or eating, and even irritability or depression. This stage can be very painful, and the dog may develop abscesses and bone loss or infection.
Apart from the lack of a good oral hygiene regimen for your dog, there are several other factors that play a role in the development of this problem. The progression is impacted by the number and type of bacteria in the mouth. Usually, if the saliva is very acidic, the build-up of plaque is faster. Dogs that keep their mouth open to breathe most of the time tend to develop more persistent plaque, because of the dehydration of the oral cavity. The condition is more prevalent in small dogs and brachycephalic dogs, as their teeth are often crowded together. This results in a greater accumulation of plaque, because even brushing is not very effective. It is very common for older dogs to be affected by this ailment.
If factors that can be controlled are paid attention to, humans can help protect their dogs from this painful ailment. Most people find that regular brushing of their dog's teeth can greatly stem the accumulation of plaque, and thus discourage the development of tartar. This is the most important preventive care technique. Also trim the hair around the mouth, as hair accumulation encourages the formation of tartar. Diet also plays an important role. Research points towards hard kibbles being better than canned foods, as this helps a great deal in preventing plaque from accumulating on the teeth. Buy chewy toys and edible dental chews for your dog, as they might dislodge some of the plaque build-up while they gnaw on such objects.
Once a vet identifies the problem, treatment depends on the stage at which it is. A regular dental cleaning and polishing will be carried out in the initial stages. The plaque and tartar build-up will be removed from the teeth, both above and below the gum line, and the teeth will be polished to remove microscopic scratches that are predisposed to plaque formation. For a dog who is at a more progressive stage of the disease, probing and dental radiology will be performed in order to select the appropriate treatment. Treatment options are root planing and subgingival curettage, periodontal debridement, gingivectomy, periodontal surgery, special therapeutics, and tooth extraction.
If you see your dog exhibiting any of the mentioned symptoms, he needs to be taken to the vet. However, prevention is better than cure. Take the extra effort to ensure that your dog has healthy teeth and gums, which will result in a better quality of life for your beloved pooch.