Gum disease – also known as periodontal disease – is the most common dental issue we see in pets. When left untreated, gum disease can become difficult to remedy, and your cat or dog may eventually end up losing teeth.
What’s the difference between gingivitis and gum disease
Early gum disease is called gingivitis, and is characterised by inflammation of the gums, also known as gingiva. It is caused by bacteria on the teeth – plaque – that release products that irritate the gums. Gingivitis often goes unnoticed by owners because it doesn’t cause the pet pain. Owners might notice bleeding gums though, and part of the gums may appear red rather than pink.
When gingivitis is left untreated, the bacteria can invade and destroy the tissues under the gums, causing advanced gum disease. If the condition is allowed to continue, periodontal disease may occur. The bone supporting the teeth starts to break down, leaving the roots of the teeth exposed and sensitive in some cases. Spaces develop between the teeth and the teeth start to get loose.
Once periodontal disease has set in, there is little for us to do other than removing the offending tooth to help the rest of the mouth and body stay healthy. Research has connected gum disease with other health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, so it’s important to seek treatment early.
Symptoms to look out for
Detecting signs of gum disease can be difficult, but the most obvious symptom is smelly breath. A bad odour from your pet’s mouth is typically the result of a bacterial infection, and the more infection present, the greater the odour. While your pet’s breath isn’t going to smell minty fresh, bad breath is not normal, and should be investigated by a vet.
A few other things to look out for that may indicate gum disease include:
- Red, inflamed or bleeding gums
- Difficulty eating
- Discolouration of teeth
- Pawing at the mouth
The best way to get on top of gum disease before it progresses is through regular dental health checks for your cat or dog. Veterinarians can diagnose gingivitis by closely observing the teeth during a consultation, and furthermore when the patient is under anaesthetic. At Moorabbin Veterinary Hospital, we use a special instrument that measures the distance between the gums and teeth and is very useful to discover deep gum pockets.
Can gum disease be prevented?
Good oral hygiene is key to preventing gum disease because it removes plaque from the teeth before bacteria can harm the gums. Chewing such things as chew toys, sticks, and bones keep teeth healthy. A good quality dental food is useful since as it is chewed, instead of shattering, it keeps its form and rubs the teeth clean. Daily brushing of the teeth, especially the back teeth is considered gold standard.
It’s important to look after your pet’s oral health from day one, as once gingivitis has set in, regular oral hygiene care might not be enough to remedy the problem. That’s because the bacteria may have started to accumulate below the gum level. In these cases, a professional scale and polish may be required.
Ultimately keeping the gums healthy from when your pet is a puppy or kitten is the best way of avoiding trouble later on. Regular veterinary visits help keep on top of things and following a good dental hygiene program is central.
Is it time for a dental health check?
Has it been a while since your pet’s last dental check-up? Our annual health checks include a thorough dental examination and is a great way to get a complete assessment of their oral health.
Book your pet’s check-up online or call us on 03 9555 4808.