Some Heartfelt Facts About Dental Disease

Pet Dental Procedure - Fairgrounds Animal HospitalSo you’ve brought your dog in to see her veterinarian for an annual checkup, and he recommends that she has a dental prophylaxis or dental cleaning. You’re given an estimate for the procedure, and it’s almost $400! It seems so expensive, and you find yourself wondering, “Do I really need to spend the money on this? It’s just bad breath right?”

Well, it’s not just bad breath. Your dog can develop gum disease, which can lead to serious internal illnesses, especially heart disease.

Let’s discuss how it all goes down – how does your dog get gum disease, how does it lead to heart disease, and finally, what concerns come along with a pet with heart disease?

How Your Dog Gets Gum Disease

Gum disease starts with plaque which is not removed from your dog’s teeth and gums.

Whenever your pup eats, bits of food and bacteria collect around the gum line and form plaque. If this plaque isn’t removed, within a few days it hardens into tartar, which adheres to your dog’s teeth.

Tartar irritates the gums and results in inflammation, called gingivitis. Your dog’s gums will turn from a healthy pink color to red, and you may notice some bad breath.

If the tartar isn’t removed it will accumulate under your dog’s gums, eventually pulling the gums away from the teeth and creating small open spaces, or pockets, which are collection points for even more bacteria.

If the problem progresses to this point, your dog has developed irreversible periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can cause pain, abscess, infection, loose teeth and even bone loss.

How quickly plaque, tartar and gum disease develop in your dog’s mouth depends on a number of factors including his age, overall health, diet, breed, genetics, and the care his teeth receive from both you and your veterinarian.

How Gum Disease Leads to Heart Disease

While studies clearly show a significant link between periodontal disease and heart disease in both humans and dogs, exactly how one leads to the other isn’t yet well understood.

Researchers suspect, however, that the culprit is bacteria in the mouth which enters the bloodstream. Mouth tissue, known as oral mucosa, is rich with blood vessels which hasten the speed at which bacteria can enter your dog’s bloodstream and travel throughout her body.

If your dog has periodontal disease, the surface of her gums is weakened and compromised. The breakdown of gum tissue is the door through which mouth bacteria enters her bloodstream.

If your pup’s immune system doesn’t kill off the bacteria circulating in her blood, it can reach her heart and infect it. Some studies point to a strong correlation between gum disease and endocarditis, an inflammation (infection) of the heart’s valves or inner lining.

Another way gum disease may lead to heart problems involves certain strains of oral bacteria. Some types of bacteria found in your dog’s mouth produce sticky proteins which can adhere to the walls of her arteries.

As this bacteria builds up, it thickens the walls of the arteries. This narrowing of the passageway through the arteries is closely associated with heart disease.

Bacteria are also known to promote the formation of blood clots which can damage the heart. Studies have shown that oral bacteria, once launched into the bloodstream, seem able to survive attacks by the immune system.

What to Do If You’re Worried Your Dog Has Heart Disease

It’s an unfortunate fact that heart disease is common in dogs. Up to 15 percent of young dogs have heart problems, and over half of aged dogs have heart disease.

Left untreated, heart disease can result in heart failure. Signs of a serious condition can include:

  • Reluctance to exercise or play
  • Tiredness, lethargy
  • Breathlessness or trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Collapsing or fainting

If you suspect your dog or cat may have heart disease, it is imperative to see your vet ASAP, before the heart starts to fail. Once this happens, a pet’s life span can be significantly shortened.

As you can see, though, it is very important to keep on top of your pet’s dental health. In addition to causing problems with the heart, dental disease can negatively affect the liver and even the kidneys.

Keep in mind too that a professional veterinary dental cleaning is the only way to remove tartar from the teeth and under the gum tissue to protect your pet’s health. With a professional dental cleaning and follow-up care, gingivitis is reversible. Periodontal disease is not reversible, but diligent at-home dental care and regular veterinary cleanings can slow down the progression of the condition.

Some Interesting Facts To Chew On:

  • Eighty-five percent of all pets have periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years of age.
  • Dental disease can result in bad breath, painful chewing, and tooth loss.
  • Bacteria under the gum can travel to the heart, kidneys, and liver.
  • A professional dental cleaning is required to remove plaque and tartar from a pet’s teeth and to assess the health of the mouth.
  • A thorough dental cleaning requires that the pet be under anesthesia.
  • Regular at-home dental care can help improve the health of your pet’s mouth and lengthen the intervals between professional dental cleanings.