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The Relationship Between Chronic Tooth &
Gum Disease and Heart, Kidney & Liver Disease

Randy Walker DVM

About Tooth And Gum Disease...

Many of our canine and feline patients have chronic tooth and gum disease (which is technically referred to as periodontal disease). This is usually the result of chronic tartar and calculus (hardened tartar) on the teeth leading to chronic gingivitis (red, inflamed gums) and pyorrhea (infection or "puss" in the gums). If this process continues long enough the teeth will usually loosen and eventually fall out. Not only does this result in obvious problems in the mouth but it has now been conclusively proven that chronic disease of the teeth and gums can lead to heart and kidney problems as well.

Briefly, How Can The Health Of My Pet's Teeth And Gums Lead To Heart Disease?

This occurs because the gums have a rich blood supply (have you ever noticed how easily your gums bleed sometimes when brushing your own teeth?). When an infection occurs in the gums and tooth sockets it's very easy for the bacteria involved to gain access to the bloodstream. The body's immune system can successfully combat this infection in most cases but especially vulnerable areas are the valves of the heart. A blood-borne infection originating from the gums and lodging on the valves of the heart often causes serious permanent damage. This is the leading cause of acquired heart murmurs (meaning those that originate in previously healthy hearts) in dogs. These "leaky" valves"' often lead to congestive heart failure and ultimately to premature death.

Briefly, How Can The Health Of My Pet's Teeth And Gums Lead To Kidney Problems?

When your dog or cat acquires an infection of the gums and tooth sockets a small "war" starts in which the "soldiers" from the pet's immune system (the antibodies) attack the bacteria (the antigen) and this results in complexes (the antibody bound to the antigen) which float around in the bloodstream before they are cleansed from the body. Compared to other things in the blood (red blood cells, white blood cells, hormones, minerals, protein molecules, etc.) these antigen/antibody complexes are huge structures and because of this the kidneys have a difficult time filtering them. Occasionally one of these huge antigen/antibody complexes will lodge in one of the microscopic tubules (the filtering structures) of the kidney leading to the death of that tubule. Fortunately the dog has thousands more of these tubules in the kidney so that the kidney can compensate for the repeated loss of these tubules (the filtering structures of the kidney) for months and often years. However, if the original cause of these antigen/antibody complexes (in this case the persistent gum infection) is allowed to proceed long enough it will eventually result in the loss of enough of these tubules that the kidney simply "wears out" prematurely and is no longer able to function properly. This leads to kidney failure and premature death. Kidney failure is the leading non-infectious/non-accident related cause of death in dogs and cats.

Briefly, How Can The Health Of My Pet's Teeth And Gums Lead To Liver Problems?

The liver is one of the main organs in charge of cleansing your pet's body of blood impurities such as the bacteria that gain access from the diseases gums. When gum disease is chronic, the liver has to work overtime and can become stressed. Sometimes this can lead to an actual bacterial hepatitis in some cases.

How Can Chronic Tooth And Gum Disease Be Prevented Or Controlled?

The best ways to prevent tooth and gum disease are by (1) feeding dry dog foods when possible; (2) regular brushing (2-3 times weekly if possible); and (3) routine dental cleaning (usually at least once-a-year for most pets).

- Randy Walker DVM
Sun Lakes Animal Clinic
May 17,2004

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
- Anatole France, 1921 Nobel Prize Speech -

Titlebar Image: The Gentle Doctor, 1937-38 by Christian Peterson (U84.179) - Iowa State University