Periodontal inflammation is the most common syndrome affecting small animals. In no other area of the body can the dedicated
veterinarian and dental team make a lifelong difference in patient health and longevity.
AnatomyThe term periodontium describes tissues that surround and support the teeth including the gingiva, alveolar bone, periodontal
ligament, and cementum.
In the dog, the healthy free gingival margin of premolars and molars is 1-2 mm coronal (toward the crown) to the cementoenamel
junction (CEJ), where root cementum meets the enamel. In the feline, the free gingival margin is 0.5 mm to 1 mm coronal to
the CEJ. The attached gingiva is located apical (toward the tooth root) to the marginal gingiva and normally is tightly bound
to the alveolar crest and the periosteum of alveolar bone. The width of the attached gingiva varies in different areas of
the mouth. Attached gingiva is keratinized to withstand the stress of ripping and tearing. The connection of firm attached
gingiva with loose alveolar mucosa is the mucogingival junction (MGJ), also called the mucogingival line (MGL). The mucogingival
junction remains stationary throughout life although the gingiva around it may change in height due to hyperplasia, recession
or attachment loss.
Plaque and calculusWithin 20 minutes of teeth cleaning, a glycoprotein layer (acquired pellicle) attaches to the exposed crown. Within 6 hours,
bacterial colonization (plaque) forms on the glycoprotein layer. In some patients, plaque irritates the gingiva, allowing
pathogenic gram-negative bacteria to survive subgingivally. By-products of these bacteria stimulate the host's immune response
to release cytokines and prostaglandins that weaken and destroy the tooth's support. The progression of periodontal disease
is dependent on the regulatory interaction between bacteria and immune modulators of the host response.
Calculus (tartar) plays a role in maintaining and accelerating periodontal disease by keeping plaque in close contact with
gingival tissues, decreasing the potential for repair and new attachment. The therapeutic importance of removing all calculus
during the professional oral hygiene visit cannot be overemphasized.
Four stagesThere are numerous grading systems used to classify gingivitis and periodontal disease. Generally, gingivitis is used to describe
soft tissue inflammatory changes. Periodontitis is diagnosed when attachment loss has occurred. The patient can be "graded"
by the worst tooth (i.e., if there is one stage 4 area, the patient has stage 4 disease). After the disease has been treated,
the patient can be upgraded.
Photo 1: Stage 1 early gingivitis in the maxillary fourth premolar.
Stage 1 (gingivitis) appears as gingival inflammation at the free gingival margin. As gingivitis progresses, advanced gingivitis
appears as gingival inflammation, edema, and bleeding on probing. Advanced gingivitis is limited to the epithelium and gingival
connective tissue. There is no tooth mobility or attachment loss. Gingivitis is reversible with proper initial therapy and
aftercare at home (Photo 1).
Stage 2 (early periodontitis) occurs when there is apical migration of the junctional epithelium, resulting in a deeper sulcus
called a pocket, or gingival recession. In stage 2 disease, up to 25 percent attachment loss occurs (Photo 2 ).
Photo 2: Stage 2 early periodontitis in the maxillary fourth premolar. Note slight gingival recession.
Stage 3 (established periodontitis) is present when 25 percent to 50 percent attachment loss exists around a root. Slight
tooth mobility occurs in single-rooted teeth. Early furcation exposure at the trunk of multirooted teeth and/or gingival recession
may exist (Photos 3 and 3a).
Stage 4 (advanced periodontitis) presents when marked (greater than 50 percent) attachment loss occurs. Stage 4 periodontal
disease can appear as furcation exposure, abscess formation, tooth mobility, deep pockets, and/or gingival recession (Photo
Photo 3: Stage 3 established periodontitis in the maxillary fourth premolar and Photo 3a: Stage 3 furcation exposure in the
maxillary fourth premolar.
Gingival hyperplasia Abnormal proliferation of the gingiva is termed gingival hyperplasia. The boxer breed is more prone than others to be affected
by gingival hyperplasia. Gingival hyperplasia results in increased pocket depths, caused by increased gingival height, not
attachment loss. The resultant pseudopocket can accumulate plaque, which, if untreated, may progress to attachment loss. Gingival
hyperplasia is treated by gingivectomy and strict home care to help prevent recurrence.
Radiographic appearanceIntraoral radiography provides critical information when making periodontal therapy decisions by imaging the supportive bone
mesial (rostral) and distal to the affected teeth.
Photo 4: Stage 4 calculus and marked gingival recession in Stage 4 periodontitis.
If clinically and radiographically greater than 50 percent of the bone and tooth support remains, periodontal procedures together
with a healthy patient and stringent home care will often result in a saved tooth. A guarded prognosis is given when 50 percent
to 75 percent bone loss exists. If greater than 75 percent support is lost, the prognosis for saving the tooth is poor (Photos
Periodontal probingA periodontal probe is the single most important examination instrument used to evaluate periodontal health. By gently inserting
a calibrated periodontal probe just apical to the free gingival margin and tracing the gingival crevice from mesial to distal,
a rapid determination of the health of the sulcular tissues can be made.
The probe stops where the gingiva attaches to the tooth or at the apex of the alveolus if attachment is lost. Each tooth should
be probed on a minimum of four sides. Bleeding on probing is indicative of an inflammatory process in the connective tissue
adjacent to the junctional epithelium. If the sulcular lining is intact and healthy, no bleeding will occur. If, however,
periodontal disease is present, bleeding will usually take place.
Photo 5: Normal appearing radiograph of the maxillary first molar in a dog with gingivitis, Photo 6: Radiograph of stage 2
disease with 4 mm pocket (periodontal probe inserted), Photo 7: Furcation involvement and exposure in a dog's mandibular third,
fourth premolars and first molar.
Normal dogs should have less than 2 mm probing depths, and cats less than 1 mm. Abnormal probing depths are noted on the dental
record and discussed with the client, before a treatment plan can be formulated.
PocketsThe clinical sulcus is the distance from free gingival margin to the most apical point that a probe reaches when gently inserted
into the gingival crevice. Pockets that result from attachment loss are called periodontal pockets. The periodontal pocket
is a pathologically deepened gingival sulcus. The clinical (absolute) pocket depth is the distance from the free gingival
margin edge to the base of a pocket, measured in millimeters.
Attachment loss (attachment level) is used to evaluate support loss in cases of gingival recession where little or no pocketing
exists. The measurement of attachment loss is the backbone of a periodontal examination. The clinical pocket depth plus recession
(measured CEJ to free gingival margin) equals the total periodontal attachment loss.
Therapy of periodontal diseasePeriodontal care includes supragingival and subgingival scaling, application of local medication, bone graft implants, periodontal
flap surgery, extraction and home care.
Stage 1 gingivitis care includes thorough supra and subgingival teeth cleaning and polishing, followed by daily brushing.
Gingivitis will usually resolve within weeks of the oral hygiene visit.
Stage 2 early periodontal disease, where minimal to moderate pockets are diagnosed, can be treated similarly to stage 1 disease
+/- root planing, +/- local administration of an antibiotic (LAA). Doxirobe¬ Gel (Pfizer) contains a flowable biodegradable
solution of 8.5% doxycycline hyclate, which is applied subgingivally to cleaned periodontal pockets greater than 3 mm in dogs
older than 1 year.
Image 1: Drawing of periodontal pocket before antibiotic insertion.