Gummy Bear

November 2004

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

As the authorities arrived on the scene, pandemonium was in full swing as onlookers from the crowd gazed down at the perpetrator in disbelief. The alleged assailant fled from the crime scene only moments ago without any insight as to the chain of events about to unfold. As he rounded the large pillar, and swayed to miss the elderly woman polishing her glasses in the middle of the aisle, he twisted to his left and fell to his knees.

The actor had no sooner heard the director yell “cut”, when out of nowhere the large German Shepard attacked and sprang upon him with a momentous force. His fierce eyes and bone-chilling ominous growl lead innocent bystanders on the set to fear for this man’s life. The large dog engulfed the man’s leg with a deliberate wrenching force that extracted a gasp from several people who were frozen in fright.

Eyebrows were raised as the man threw his arms around a dog’s neck and began to laugh while the dog gummed his calf muscle. This poor dog has been the victim of periodontal “gum” disease that resulted in all his teeth being removed due to severe infection. The happy owner of this beautiful Shepherd, having adopted him only months before, brought “Gummy Bear” to many of his acting engagements. The two of them seemed to deeply enjoy staging a spontaneous final act for their unassuming audience.

Periodontal disease is a very debilitating disease that afflicts pets and people alike.

Oral Disease is the #1 health problem in both dogs and cats. Approximately 80% of pets older than four years suffer from gum disease. Interestingly enough, approximately 80% of people older than 35 suffer from gum disease.

Many of us possess the sad image of an older dog or cat having great difficulty eating because the pain in their mouth is so great, or an elderly person whose dentures are coming out of their mouth when they are speaking or eating.

Periodontal disease in humans and animals has many similarities in diagnosis and treatment. Visual inspection of the oral tissues, probing around the teeth to measure the gum attachment, and x-rays are common to both.

Preventive care is truly the most important aspect for both you and your pets. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Both dentists and veterinarians use the same systematic diagnosis and place their patients into one of three categories: health, gingivitis, or periodontitis. Periodontitis is the most serious and it is subcategorized into early, moderate, or advanced.

Treatment for humans and animals has many similarities. The use of anesthesia makes for a pleasant experience. Ultrasonic instruments vibrate the plaque and tartar off the teeth. Hand instruments are used to scale the teeth to make them smooth and stimulate a healthy response.

One monumental difference between treatment of periodontal disease in humans and animals is the concern of getting verbally reprimanded versus getting bitten.

Facts about Periodontal Disease:

Periodontal Disease affects a staggering 80% of Americans, estimated at 35.7 million people nationwide, 7 million people in Georgia, and 160,000 people in Cherokee County.

Research links periodontal disease to other health problems including: cardiovascular disease, preterm low birth-weight babies, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory illness.

The mass of tissue in the oral cavity is equivalent to the skin on your arm that extends from the wrist to the elbow. If this area were red, swollen, and infected, you would visit the doctor. Gum disease is not a small infection.

Smoking may be responsible for more than half of the cases of periodontal disease among adults in this country.

People with diabetes, leukemia, or AIDS/HIV are at increased risk for developing periodontal disease.

Stress can affect periodontal disease and can make the infection more severe and harder to fight. A recent study found high levels of financial stress and poor coping abilities increase he likelihood of developing periodontal disease by twofold.

Periodontal disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults.

Research proves that up to 30% of the population may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. Despite aggressive oral care habits, these people may be six times more likely to develop periodontal disease.

The basic problem is that once the gums are inflamed, they become a MAIN SOURCE of bacterial absorption into the blood stream. This bacterial invasion into the blood affects the heart, the liver, the kidneys, the joints, the vascular system, and especially the immune system.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth. There are two main categories: gingivitis and periodontitis.

Periodontal disease can affect one tooth or many teeth. It begins when the bacteria in plaque (the sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth) causes the gums to become inflamed.

Gingivitis is the mildest form of the disease, and causes your gums redden, swell and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort. Gingivitis is often caused by inadequate oral hygiene. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care.

Periodontitis can result from untreated gingivitis. With time, plaque can spread and grow below the gum line. The gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become infected.

As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Eventually, your teeth can become loose and possibly have to be removed. This destructive process typically has very mild symptoms, which are often undetectable.

Gum Disease is preventable and treatable. Routine visits to the doctor allow either you or your pet to remain healthy and happy. Routine visits to your dentist twice per year, or veterinarian once per year, is not expensive and provides a quality of life you or your pet deserves.