Gum Diseases in Dogs (cont.)

Periodontitis

Periodontitis develops as a continuation of gingivitis. The teeth are held in their bony sockets by a substance called cementum and a specialized connective tissue called the periodontal membrane. As the gum infection attacks the cementum and periodontal membrane (see above the figure Structure of a Tooth), the roots become infected, the teeth begin to loosen, and eventually they detach. This is a painful process. Although the dog's appetite is good, she may sit by her food dish, eat reluctantly, and drop food from her mouth. Drooling is common. A root abscess can rupture into the maxillary sinus or nasal cavity, producing a purulent unilateral nasal discharge, an oral-nasal fistula or a swelling below the eye.

Treatment: The teeth should be professionally cleaned, as described for gingivitis. Severe infections may necessitate removing a portion of the diseased gum (a procedure called gingivectomy). In a dog with advanced periodontitis, it may be necessary to extract some or all of the teeth before healing can begin. Once the gums are healed, a dog without teeth is able to eat surprisingly well. Antibiotics are given for one to three weeks, depending on the severity of the disease.

Aftercare at home involves rinsing the mouth with 0.2 percent chlorhexidine solution (Peridex or Nolvadent) once or twice a day. Soak a cotton ball and gently swab the gums and teeth, or use a plastic syringe and squirt the antiseptic directly onto the teeth and gums. You can also brush the dog's teeth with a dog tooth brush and a toothpaste made especially for dogs that contains chlorhexidine. Massage the gums with your finger, a piece of linen, or a soft gauze pad, using a gentle circular motion, while pressing on the outside surface of the gums. Continue the mouth washes and massages until the gums are healthy. Feed a soft diet consisting of canned dog food mixed with water to make a mush. Once healing is complete, switch to a good home dental program.

A product called Stomadhex, available through your veterinarian, may prove to be an effective substitute for the aftercare just described. Stomadhex is a small adhesive patch that sticks to mucous membranes. The patch is applied to the inside surface of the upper lip. It stays in place for several hours and slowly releases chlorhexidine and a vitamin called nicotinamide that promotes oral hygiene. The sustained release delivery system helps to prevent dental plaque and tartar and aids in controlling bad breath. The patch is applied daily for 10 days following a dental procedure, or as recommended by your veterinarian.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.