Causes of Canine Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is largely bacterial in origin. The causative microorganisms typically are part of the normal bacterial flora of a dog’s mouth. Over time, without a proper diet and dental care, the host-parasite balance can become disrupted, causing bacterial overgrowth. The bacteria aggregate between the teeth and gums, causing inflammation, infection, irritation and bleeding. This stage of periodontal disease is called “gingivitis.” The bacteria also adhere to the teeth and form plaque, which in turn thickens, mineralizes and becomes calculus (also called tartar). Pockets that develop in the dog’s gums trap food particles and become sites for further bacterial proliferation. Plaque, which is composed of bacteria, bits of food, calcium salts and other organic material, is a soft, yellowish-brown material when first formed. Once it hardens into calculus, the dog will suffer increased bleeding and pain. Calculus is rough and highly irritating to surrounding gum tissue.
Periodontitis is the progressively degenerative condition that results from untreated gingivitis. This inflammatory and infectious process can destroy the periodontal ligament as well as the substance that holds teeth in their sockets, which is called cementum. It also can cause resorption of the alveolar bone, which leads to further pain, tooth loosening and tooth loss. In advanced cases, affected teeth completely lose their attachment to the jaw bone.
Preventing Gum Disease
Fortunately, periodontal disease is almost entirely preventable by regular home dental care, which should start after a puppy’s permanent teeth have erupted. A number of products are available for canine oral hygiene, including brushes, pastes, washes, rinses and bones or other chewing products that help to physically reduce plaque build-up. Special dental diets are also commercially available. Dogs prone to periodontal disease should be fed a palatable, high quality dry kibble as the mainstay of their diet.
Interestingly, dogs living in underdeveloped countries or communities are less prone to developing severe periodontal disease than are those living in highly developed areas, presumably because their diet is more varied and their teeth and gums experience more rigorous grinding and chewing action.