How periodontal disease can affect pets' organs

February 15, 2011
Mary L. Berg, BS, RVT, RLATG, VTS (dentistry)

Mary L. Berg, BS, RVT, RLATG, VTS(Dentistry) is a Charter member of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians and received her Veterinary Technician Specialty in Dentistry in June 2006. Mary is currently serving as the treasurer of the AVDT and the American Society of Veterinary Dentistry. She is the past president of the KVTA and a member at large of the NAVTA board. Mary worked in research for more than 22 years, specializing in products aimed at improving oral health of companion animals. She was the practice manager and dental technician specialist at Gentle Care Animal Hospital in Lawrence, Kansas, for more than seven years and is currently the president of Beyond the Crown Veterinary Education, a veterinary dental consulting service. She and her husband Doug live on a farm near Lawrence, Kansas, with a menagerie of animals.

Knowing the science behind the link between oral disease and systemic health will help you get clients on board with veterinary dental care.

You probably know that periodontal disease can negatively affect a pet's organs. Your veterinary clients might have heard this too. To drive up client compliance, it's important that they-and you-understand why.

The formation of plaque on teeth leads not only to calculus or tartar buildup but also to gingivitis. And if gingivitis is left untreated, it will progress into more advanced periodontal disease. Anecdotal reports have suggested that chronic periodontal disease causes problems in the heart, kidneys, and possibly the liver. Recent studies have shown a correlation between oral disease and systemic diseases in people, and researchers now have a better understanding of how oral disease affects the systemic health of dogs and cats. (Click here for a list of related studies on pet dental disease.)

The bacteria in the oral cavity of a pet with periodontal disease can be released into the circulatory system and travel throughout the body. This can cause damage to cardiac tissue and lead to endocarditis. Studies have shown a link among bacteremias originating from oral infections and cerebral and myocardial infarctions and histological changes. There are also studies that link periodontal disease to an increase in insulin resistance.

When bacteria invades kidneys, it damages glomerulus membranes, causing them to function improperly. Bacteria also can cause functional changes in the liver of dogs.

Because of periodontal disease's affect on overall health, it's more than a localized problem that leads to bad breath and tooth loss-it's also the beginning of more severe systemic issues. By sharing this message, you can help clients understand the importance of oral health, increase dental cleanings in your practice, and encourage homecare compliance among clients, thereby ensuring a healthier life for your patients.