The mouth - a hidden organ system
September 2007 is Pet Smile Month when nearly 1500 veterinary practices throughout the UK will be offering free dental check-ups as, it is very reliably estimated, 70-80 % of dogs older than three years old have some form of gum or mouth disease. This accounts for untold pain and illness most of which is treatable and nearly all is preventable. More to the point, how would you like doing agility with toothache? In the first of a series of articles, vet dentistry specialist Gerhard Putter explains more about this important and oft forgotten aspect of your dog's health.
The mouth and teeth of dogs is very important organ system that has a much wider function in the dogs than ingestion of food such as exploring the environment, handling toys, weapons for aggression and self protection to name but a few. Apart from relatively small differences, the anatomy of the mouth in humans and dogs are surprisingly similar. We can safely assume discomfort and pain associated with mouth and tooth disease in humans and dogs are experienced in a very similar way.
A space in the centre of all teeth - the so called root canal or pulp chamber - houses the pulp which consists of a fine network of blood and lymphatic vessels, nerves in loose connective tissue and supplies nutrients and oxygen and remove waste products to maintain the health of the tooth. These vessels and nerves enter the tooth at the tip (or apex) of the root and are branches of larger vessels and nerves that lies within the bone of the upper and lower jaws.
The teeth are situated in special sockets in the bone of both the upper and lower jaws. A thin fibrous membrane attaches the root of the teeth to the bone of the jaw and is known as the periodontal ligament. This ligament allows slight movement of the tooth within the socket and acts as a shock absorber.
The soft tissue in the mouth consists basically of two types.
Gum and tooth disease
A safe assumption, therefore, is that if a condition or injury would be painful in our own mouths, it would be very similarly painful and distressing in our dogs! The blood supply to the bone and soft tissue of the mouth is very well developed. Wounds in the mouth therefore heal very rapidly even though the bacteria within the mouth are potentially harmful. This has also some far reaching implication in the diseased mouth, but would be discussed later in this series.
September is Pet Smile Month and all participating veterinary practices offers free dental checks during this time. This is a genuine effort to inform pet owners about the importance of health mouths and teeth and its effect on longevity and quality of life. Consult the dedicated Pet Smile Month website for a list of participating veterinary practices as well as other information on dental issues. www.PetSmile.org
These bacteria also tend to produce more potent toxins that cause tissue injury and destruction. It is these bacterial products that trigger the inflammation of the gum (gingivitis).
The support system of the tooth consists of gum, periodontal ligament and the bony socket in the jaw and is collectively known as the periodontal tissue. If left unattended gingivitis could affect this deeper support system of the tooth with the resultant attachment loss of the tooth. Inflammation of periodontal tissue is known as periodontal disease or (periodontitis)
Any questions about issues covered in this article could be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Other topics in this series will include:
He is also currently the Public Relations Officer of the British Veterinary Dental Association (BVDA)
First published: 16 September 2007