Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition affecting dogs and cats. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, studies show that more than 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats by three years of age show some signs of periodontal disease. Small dog breeds are particularly at risk because their teeth are crowded into small mouths which creates a haven for plaque buildup.
The periodontal tissues are the gingiva, cementum, periodontal ligament, and alveolar supporting bone. Periodontal disease starts with the formation of plaque, a transparent adhesive fluid composed of mucin, sloughed epithelial cells, and aerobic, gram positive cocci. Plaque starts forming 2 to 5 days after dental cleaning. If the plaque is not removed, mineral salts in the food will precipitate to form hard dental calculus (tartar). The calculus is irritating to the gingival tissue, changing the pH of the mouth and allowing pathogenic aerobic gram negative bacteria to survive subgingivally. When periodontal disease is not treated, the subgingival anaerobic bacteria can continue to reproduce, creating deeper periodontal pockets through bone destruction. Eventually, this progression can cause tooth loss and other internal medicine problems. Bad breath, bleeding and inflammation of the gums, receding gums, loosening and the eventual loss of teeth are characteristic of the condition.