Periodontal disease is the most common infectious (caused by bacteria) disease in dogs and cats. It is estimated that 80 percent or more of dogs and cats between the ages of one and three years have some evidence of periodontal disease that requires treatment.
Normal teeth should be white. Gums should be light pink, except in those breeds with pigmented gums (such as Chows). While all pets have some amount of noticeable breath odor, pets with periodontal disease have noticeably disagreeable odors, from months to years of decay. While bad breath per se is no big deal, what causes bad breath is a big deal?—?and a very serious problem that ultimately will shorten a pet’s life.
The bad breath is just on sign of periodontal disease and is caused by bacteria and their toxins destroying the teeth and gums. Left untreated, the bacteria and their toxins can cause serious health problems for a pet.
Periodontal disease in pets, as in people, is caused by bacteria and plaque. With time, plaque hardens and becomes the yellow-brown tartar commonly seen on the teeth. As bacteria and plaque accumulate, toxins are produced. Over time, these toxins destroy the teeth and gums. Excess tartar, foul breath, loose teeth, bleeding teeth and gums, inflamed and reddened gums, and actual pus coming from the tooth sockets are seen as a result of severe destruction of the oral tissues of the jaw. Gingivitis-stomatitis is a painful inflammatory condition of the gums and other tissues of the mouth.
Periodontal disease is not just confined to the mouth. Its effects are felt throughout the body, and the disease is the main source of the infection and inflammation elsewhere in the body. The foundation of any holistic health-care program involves treating disease?—?and pets with dirty, infected teeth must be treated to eliminate chronic sources of infection and inflammation that can cause harm within the body. May older dogs and cats that act “old” in fact have suffered for years from periodontal disease. Upon a proper dental scaling under anesthesia, most of these pets will act “young” again as a result of decreased pain and infection.
The term “dental disease” can refer to any problem with a pet’s teeth and gums, such as a tumor, a broken tooth, improper dentition that might require orthodontics, or more commonly an infection of the teeth and gums.
As mentioned, periodontal disease, caused by bacteria and their toxins destroying the teeth and gums, can cause other health problems for pets. Every time the dog or cat inhales, it is inhaling bacteria and toxins into its lungs. Whenever the pet swallows, it is swallowing bacteria and bacterial toxins into its stomach and intestines. Whenever it eats, bacteria and their toxins enter the bloodstream. Over several months or years, these bacteria and toxins can cause heart , liver, kidney, lung and gastrointestinal disease or organ failure. These problems become more severe as the pet ages due to chronic systems, and chronic wear and tear on aging organs that may not be able to handle this constant load of bacteria and bacterial toxins. To help prevent early death from these devastating diseases, and to relieve the pain associated with dental infections, early treatment of oral infections (periodontal disease) is essential.
The treatment depends upon the severity of the disease. Most pets who have early periodontal disease can be treated by their veterinarians with an ultrasonic scaling and antibiotics if needed. More severe disease often requires advanced dental procedures such as root canals, extractions, and gum surgery, best performed by referral to a specialist. Often oral radiographs (x-rays) will detect disease under the gums that would normally go undetected in the more severe cases. For most pets, an annual dental cleaning will suffice. Some pets may need treatment more frequently. Smaller breeds of dogs often require a cleaning twice each year. Pets with diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, or any problems with their immune systems should have their periodontal infections treated as often as needed to prevent serious complications. For example, recent studies showed that bacteria were often found on abnormal heart valves in pets with heart disease. These bacteria were identical to the ones cultured from the infected teeth and gums. It is no coincidence that many pets with heart disease also have periodontal disease, which can cause a heart infection called bacterial endocarditis.
This condition is life-threatening and very difficult and expensive to treat. One of the most important things to do with pets with heart disease (as well as any chronic disease) is to make sure they have their teeth cleaned at least annually if not more often. Any pet with heart disease needs to have any type of infection prevented at all costs.
While many pet owners (especially those with older pets) worry about anesthesia, modern anesthesia is very safe in our older pets. Every pet should have a through examination and some sort of laboratory testing, usually blood or urine testing, prior to the anesthetic procedure. There is no reason to deprive an older pet of a necessary procedure just because anesthesia might be needed. As long as the pet is treated holistically and the anesthesia is safely administered, older pets can have dental cleanings done safely as needed.
Anything the owner can do to decrease infection, such as regular brushing using a product prescribed by the veterinarian, can decrease the number of treatments needed each year. At-home care by owners can go a long way in controlling periodontal infections. Regular brushing with a veterinary dental product, such as a chlorhexidine solution, will significantly slow down the return of periodontal disease. Most pets can easily be trained to accept daily brushing.
PRINCIPAL NATURAL TREATMENTS
Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) is a powerful fat soluble antioxidant that is found in every cell in the body. It plays a fundamental role in the mitochondria, the parts of the cell that produce energy from food. Coenzyme Q10 appears to control the flow of oxygen within the cells as well as functioning as an antioxidant to reduce damage to cells by harmful free radicals. Every cell in the body needs CoQ10, but there is no U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance since the body can manufacture CoQ10 from scratch.
Because CoQ10 is found in all animal and plant cells, we obtain small amounts of this nutrient for our diet. However, it would be hard to get a therapeutic dosage from food. While CoQ10 is most commonly recommended for pets with heart disease, anecdotal studies suggest that by acting as an antioxidant it may also help pets with gingivitis.
CoQ10 may also help periodontal (gum) disease (by reducing the size and improving the health of periodontal pockets, as well as decreasing inflammation, redness, bleeding and pain) and diabetes in people and pets.
In people, the typical recommended dosage of CoQ10 is 30 to 300 mg daily, often divided into two or three doses. CoQ10 is fat-soluble and is better absorbed when taken in an oil-based soft gel form rather than in a dry form such as tablets and capsules. In pets, the typical dosage is 30 mg every 24 to 48 hours, although your veterinarian may alter this dosage depending upon your pet’s size and individual needs. (Some doctors feel that increasing the dosage is necessary for larger pets; for example, 80 mg every 24 to 48 hours might be recommended daily for a 100-pound dog.)
CoQ10 appears to be extremely safe. No significant side effects have been found; however, pets with severe heart disease should not take CoQ10 (or any other supplement) except under a veterinarian’s supervision.
The maximum safe dosage of CoQ10 for young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been determined; the same is true for pets of similar circumstances.
Certain vitamins and minerals function in the body to reduce oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical process that occurs within the body’s cells. After oxidation occurs, certain by-products such as peroxides and “free radicals” accumulate. These cellular by-products are toxic to the cells and surrounding tissues. The body removes these by-products by producing additional chemicals called antioxidants that combat these oxidizing chemicals.
In disease, excess oxidation can occur and the body’s normal antioxidant abilities are overwhelmed. This is where supplying antioxidants can help. By giving your pet’s body extra antioxidants, it may be possible to neutralize the harmful by-products of cellular oxidation. SInce oxidative damage may contribute to periodontal disease and severe gingivitis, many holistic veterinarians recommend antioxidants to decrease inflammation in the mouth (although clinical studies are lacking at this time).
Several antioxidants can be use to supplement pets. Most commonly, the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E and the minerals selenium, manganese, and zinc are prescribed. Other antioxidants, including N-acetylcystenine, Coenzyme Q10, Ginkgo Biloba, bilberry, grape seed extract, and pycnogenol may also be helpful for a number of disorders. There in no “correct” antioxidant to use. Dosage varies with the specific antioxidant chosen.
Orthomolecular medicine (often called “megavitamin therapy”) seeks to use increased levels of vitamins and minerals (mainly antioxidants) to help treat a variety of medical disorders. While daily amounts of vitamins and minerals have been recommended as an attempt to prevent nutritional deficiencies, orthomolecular medicine uses higher doses as part of the therapy for disease.
The pet food industry relies on recommendations by the National Research Council (NRC) to prevent diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies in the average pet; yet, the NRC has not attempted to determine the optimum amount of nutrients or their effects in treating medical disorders. While a minimum amount of nutrients may be satisfactory in preventing diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies, it is important to realize there is no average pet and every pet has unique nutritional needs.
It is unlikely our current recommendations are adequate to maintain health in every pet. Each pet has unique requirements for nutrients. Additionally, these needs will vary depending upon the pet’s health. For example, in times of stress or disease additional nutrients above and beyond those needed for health will be required. Orthomolecular medicine evaluated the needs of pets and uses increased nutrients to fight disease.