Dogs’ oral health care under the microscope

It’s not just your patients who need advice on looking after their mouths – dog owners are being urged to consider their pets’ oral health too in light of recent research.

The study, conducted by the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, examined the progression of periodontal disease in miniature schnauzers and found that without effective and frequent oral care, dental disease developed rapidly and advanced even more quickly with age.

‘The study showed us that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to small dogs’ oral health,’ said Dr Stephen Harris, leader of the oral care team at Waltham, part of Mars Petcare. ‘The study findings help us better understand the way dental disease appears and progresses and underscores the importance of proper oral care, especially as our dogs age.’

To better understand the rate of dental disease progression, researchers replaced the regular oral care routines of miniature schnauzers with full mouth examinations. They found that, without regular oral care, the majority of dogs developed the early stages of periodontal disease within six months and dogs above the age of four developed periodontal disease even faster. The degree to which periodontal disease progressed varied based on the type of tooth and location on the tooth.

Furthermore, the study showed that periodontitis developed regardless of the visible signs of gingivitis, which had previously been believed to reliably precede it. Therefore while a visual inspection may be sufficient to detect a disease like gingivitis, it is not useful in detecting the onset of periodontitis and may not reveal the areas at greatest risk for dental disease.

‘Some pet owners lift-the-lip and look at a dog’s gums to get a sense of its oral health, but this research shows they could be missing important early signs of dental disease,’ said Dr Harris. ‘The findings should encourage all dog owners to establish an oral care routine that consists of regular tooth brushing supplemented with dental chews and veterinary checks. It’s important for all dogs, but we know that small dogs like miniature schnauzers are at an even higher risk of developing severe dental problems.’

The study (‘A longitudinal assessment of periodontal disease in 52 miniature schnauzers’), published in BMC Vet Research, examined the rate of progression of periodontal disease in miniature schnauzers. Over the course of 60 weeks, full mouth examinations were conducted on 52 miniature schnauzers ranging in age between 1.3 and 6.9 years.

Prior to the study, each dog had a regular oral care routine that included tooth brushing. This was suspended a week before the initial dental assessment.

Of the 2,155 teeth examined, all entered the study with some level of gingivitis, while only 23 teeth entered with periodontitis. Every six weeks, levels of gingivitis and periodontitis were assessed around the whole surface of each individual tooth by measuring periodontal probing depth, gingival recession and furcation exposure. Teeth were assessed for the level of gingivitis (scored between 0 and 4) and periodontitis (PD1 – up to 25% attachment loss and PD2 – between 25 to 50% attachment loss). Teeth from only one dog in the study did not progress to periodontitis.

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