DENTAL disease is one of the most common conditions seen in small animal practice, affecting an estimated 85% of dogs and 70% of cats over three years old – and periodontal disease is one of the most common types diagnosed.
The term refers to any inflammatory disease or disorder affecting the periodontium and, untreated, it eventually leads to destruction of tissues and ultimately tooth loss.
In any cat or dog, the underlying cause of the disease is an undisturbed accumulation of plaque on the tooth surface, consisting of a biofilm of salivary glycoproteins, debris and oral bacteria. Calculus, or tartar, is formed as a result of the mineralisation of the sub- and supragingival plaque by salivary mineral salts.
Calculus itself is not responsible for periodontal disease but does play an aggravating role by providing a plaque retentive surface and is invariably covered by an unmineralised layer of plaque.
Once periodontitis has developed, it can be considered to be irreversible and the aim of treatment is to prevent further development. Treatment generally involves investigation under general anaesthesia, with extractions, sub- and supragingival scaling and polishing.
Clearly, prevention is better than cure. Whilst not every case of gingivitis will progress to periodontal disease, it is always a key developmental stage, so maintenance of gingival health is essential to prevention.
Education and motivation of the owner is the first step in prevention. For example, if a dog receives no oral hygiene care at home after a scale and polish, within three months its gingivitis will have returned to the same level as before the procedure.
The most effective mechanical method of eliminating dental plaque is daily toothbrushing, which must be introduced as soon as possible after scaling.
The mechanical effect of dry food in helping to reduce plaque build-up on teeth, combined with certain active ingredients, can also help to delay the development of periodontal disease and maintain oral health and hygiene.
These ingredients, incorporated within the kibble or on the kibble surface, are released into the oral cavity during mastication and subsequently mix with saliva.
They can help to limit bacterial proliferation and the production of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs), and also limit the adhesion of bacteria to the surface of the tooth. For example:
- Polyphosphates. Sodium tripolyphosphates bind salivary calcium so that it is unavailable to build into tartar. To facilitate their release and contact with salivary calcium in pets, polyphosphates can be incorporated into the external kibble coating, where they have a significantly greater effectiveness than within the kibble itself.
- Zinc. Zinc can help to control oral bacterial populations and reduce the development of plaque, tartar formation and halitosis. Zinc salts help to limit the deposition of dental tartar by inhibiting the formation of calcium hydroxyapatite complex and promoting the formation of more soluble complexes such as tricalcium phosphate. Zinc salts also reduce the production of the foulsmelling VSCs which cause halitosis.
- Polyphenols. Polyphenols have a number of beneficial effects for pet health. A diet formulated with green tea, naturally rich in catechins, can help to balance the microbial population within dental plaque. In addition, polyphenols can reduce the capacity of bacteria such as Streptococcus spp. to adhere to the surface of epithelial cells of the mouth, and can inhibit the production of acids by the bacteria in plaque.
Periodontal disease always develops from the bacterial biofilm that makes up dental plaque.
Any factors limiting plaque formation can therefore have a significant benefit to pet dental health.
Toothbrushing remains the most effective means of preventing the formation of dental plaque but the use of dental-specific foods, with a combination of mechanical tooth cleaning and nutrient-related benefits, plays a key role in the dental health of pets and should be highly recommended.