Integrative Pet Vet column: Oral probiotics and periodontal disease
Integrative Pet Vet
February has been designated National Pet Health Month for good reason. Periodontal disease is the most common health problem affecting dogs and cats. Over 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats over 2 years of age have periodontal disease. Almost all dogs and cats by 5 years of age are affected. Untreated periodontal disease can lead to multiple problems in the mouth including bad breath, pain and tooth loss and problems in the body such as damage to the heart, kidneys and liver as they age. These issues are alarming from a health perspective but also because periodontal disease is thought to be preventable through regular home and professional care.
In the mouth, bacteria form plaque that sticks to the surface of the tooth. This plaque hardens into dental calculus (tartar). As a cause of periodontal disease, plaque and calculus that is below the gum line is a bigger problem than the more visible buildup that you can see on the teeth. The plaque and calculi below the gum line, in the small groove where the gum attaches to the tooth (sulcus), can incite inflammation and infection. This inflammatory process can cause damage to the attachment of the gum tissue to the tooth and to the attachment of the tooth to the bone of the jaw. Bacteria can secrete toxins that also contribute to the damage.
These damaging processes lead to periodontal disease, which includes gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the tooth). Unfortunately, the damage from periodontal disease is not confined to just loss of teeth. It can progress into formation of a hole between the mouth and the nasal cavity, weakening of bone leading to fractures of the jaw, and bone infection. Bacteria in the mouth can also enter the bloodstream leading to damaging changes in the kidneys, liver and heart.
When you consider the cause of periodontal disease it becomes clear that the methods for preventing or controlling it are focused on reduction or control of the undesirable bacteria in the mouth. These approaches include brushing, wipes, hard dental chews and rinses. Other approaches include the administration of seaweed products that are thought to change the chemistry of the saliva, which contributes to reduced plaque and calculi formation.
Another tool that is gaining widespread attention is the use of oral probiotics. Oral probiotics are showing potential for preventing and treating periodontal disease. They appear to improve the overall health of the mouth, as well as improving the healing of the diseased areas in the mouth. The mouth has a biofilm or microbiome much like what exists in the digestive tract. A healthy microbiome equals a healthy digestive tract and immune system just like a healthy biofilm in the mouth equals a healthy mouth. Probiotics for the mouth act in a similar fashion as probiotics for the intestinal tract. They can prevent adhesion of the undesirable bacteria to mouth surfaces, produce substances that inhibit the undesirable organisms, compete for nutrients against undesirable organisms, and can lead to less inflammation and less overall damage.
Even with regular teeth brushing and other at-home oral care approaches, periodic teeth cleaning is an important part of oral health care just as it is for humans. In dogs and cats, a thorough teeth cleaning can only be accomplished while under anesthesia. While teeth cleanings that do not use anesthesia have their benefits, they cannot do as effective of a cleaning of the sulcus area, which is where periodontal disease is thought to start.
Periodontal disease is considered a preventable problem. An effective program requires both at-home care and professional cleanings. Some individuals and some breeds are prone to periodontal disease and require more intensive support programs.
If you have questions about your pet’s oral health, contact your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.