Periodontal disease and diet in domestic pets

Teeth cleaning, chews and control of diet texture can help prevent periodontal disease in dogs

source: Cecilia Gorrel
Journal of Nutrition vol 128 no 12, Dec 1998
starts p2712S, 3 pages long

Periodontal diseases include gingivitis, where only the gingiva is affected, and the more serious condition of periodontitis, which can lead to loss of teeth, because the root cementum, periodontal ligament and alveolar bone are affected. It is very common, probably the most common condition that vets see in small animals such as dogs. The pet may suffer discomfort, and other organs may also be affected, so it is important to prevent periodontal disease as a way of caring for pets' general health.

Dental plaque is the main cause of periodontal disease. Plaque is made up of oral debris, dead cells, salivary components, and bacteria and bacterial byproducts. Plaque rapidly accumulates on teeth, and in pockets at the base of the teeth. The reasons for accumulation in pockets are still debated, but include pocket depth. Food debris is not the problem, since plaque formation and periodontitis can occur even in dogs fed through a tube, if their teeth are not brushed, though not all dogs that develop gingivitis go on to develop periodontitis. Calculus is hardened plaque, and is not a problem in itself, though it can cause problems by encouraging plaque to be retained. Plaque microorganisms make enzymes that can digest components of pets' connective tissue, and they release chemicals like hydrogen sulphide and ammonia. The microbial products also trigger inflammation, which is damaging in itself. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce attachment loss, despite having no effect on microbiota. The susceptibility of the individual host to plaque bacteria appears to be a factor, and this susceptibility may be partly inherited. Malnutrition and stress can also exacerbate the problem. Periodontitis may also progress in stops and starts, rather continuously, and more research is needed to understand why.

The texture of pet food is important, since most pets are not malnourished. Test diets of special coarse food geared to removing plaque, and dry foods supplemented by chews have both been found to be effective in studies of dogs. Toothbrushing is, however, the most effective means of controlling plaque. Antiplaque agents in toothpaste help, though they can trigger allergic reactions, and are not as effective without toothbrushing. Dietary texture also helps, but daily toothbrushing is the single best way to protect teeth and gums.