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Periodontitis in Dogs

By: Dr. David Nielsen

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Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize canine periodontitis and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history and physical examination concentrating on a thorough oral exam of your dog, perhaps while he is anesthetized.

  • Full mouth x-rays to evaluate your dog's teeth. Seventy percent of the tooth structure is below the gumline and periodontitis cannot be properly diagnosed without them.

  • Complete periodontal probing and dental charting. General anesthesia is needed for a thorough oral examination and periodontal probing (a blunt probe that is used to check the gum/tooth interface).

    Additional diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood chemistries, a complete blood count (CBC), and urinalysis to determine the general health of the patient. It is also recommended prior to anesthesia.

  • Anaerobic culture and sensitivity for chronic cases of periodontitis


    Teeth can generally be salvaged until they have lost 75 percent of their bone support from one or more roots. Your veterinarian may recommend the following:

  • Antimicrobial drugs may be indicated one hour before oral procedures. Examples of antimicrobials are those that target gram negative anaerobic bacteria that can commonly occur in the mouth. Drugs may include clindamycin and a combination of enrofloxacin and metronidazole. Anesthesia is required for treatment of periodontitis. Anesthesia is followed by:

  • Chlorhexidine(0.12 percent), a disinfectant that is often sprayed in the oral cavity during the procedure to reduce aerosolized bacteria (bacterial spread by the air) during the procedure

  • Ultrasonic scaling (cleaning the teeth both above and below the gumline) and tooth polishing.

  • Root planing (which is scaling [scraping/cleaning the teeth] deep below the gumline).

  • Periodontal pockets may require surgical periodontal flaps in order to root plane away the calculus and bacterial biofilms (large interrelated groups of bacteria that are virtually impenetrable without mechanical disruption and which are somewhat resistant to antibiotics).

  • Single pockets may benefit from a locally instilled product that gives off an antibiotic for up to two weeks.

  • Extractions (removing the tooth) may be required if a tooth is unsalvageable (as indicated by full-mouth X-rays).

    Home Care

    The basic principle is that active periodontal disease will not develop around a clean tooth. Daily tooth brushing is the single most important home care act that you can do. Dental care diets or treats can also be helpful to maintain a healthy mouth. Chlorhexidine rinses or toothpastes are excellent at killing plaque above the gumline and should be used daily in chronic or refractory cases.

    Periodontal lesions can be progressive so it is important they are monitored closely. Follow-up with your veterinarian as directed (often every 3 to 6 months) for re-evaluation.

    Preventative Care

    Again, daily tooth brushing using a pet dental product is the most important thing you can do to prevent periodontal disease. Options include chlorhexidine gels, toothpastes, rinses and regular toothpastes. In addition, dental examinations every three to six months by your veterinarian are important. He or she may recommend frequent ultrasonic scalings and root planings.

    A new vaccine that that targets the bacteria involved in the disease processed is under development by Pfizer®. It is called "Porphyromonas" vaccine is slated for release sometime in mid 2006.

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