Systemic Effects of Dental Disease
The systemic (whole body) effects are a tremendously important consequence of dental disease, in addition to the local effects in the mouth of pain and inflammation. These are often the things responsible for the signs of “ageing”.
Blood Spread Infection
Bacteria from the periodontal disease have very easy access into the blood stream. It has been shown that when a dog eats there is a micro-movement of the teeth. This movement leads to a shower of bacteria being launched into the blood stream. This can also happen during a “scale & polish”. This is the main reason why vets try to avoid doing “clean surgery” (such as neutering) at the same time as carrying out a dental procedure.
In an otherwise healthy pet, if the numbers of bacteria are not too high, the body’s normal defence mechanisms can mop up the infection without too many ill effects. However, if a pet is immunocompromised, or debilitated with another illness, or if the numbers of bacteria are very high – then the infection can spread through the blood stream to affect other organs.
The kidneys have a massive blood supply and act as a filter, excreting waste products from the blood into the urine. The filter can also act as a trap for circulating bacteria. Infection can then damage the function of the kidneys.
Blood tests can help to reveal low grade kidney problems. It is not uncommon to find an improvement in kidney tests after proper dental treatment has been carried out. If kidney damage is found then the vet may recommend the use of fluids, possibly an intra-venous drip, during the anaesthetic for the dental.
If the heart valves are damaged, or are not working properly, then the blood flow around them is turbulent. This turbulence leads to the heart murmur sound that vets hear with the stethoscope.
The damaged heart valve is also a site that bacteria carried by the blood stream like to settle upon. This is a condition known as Bacterial Endocarditis. The bacteria can be shed from this area to seed off to any other organ in the body.
Bacteria from the blood stream will be carried into the depths of the lungs by the fine meshwork of small blood vessels needed to exchange oxygen from the air.
Liver & Pancreas
In some cases of Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) the source of the infection appears to have been dental disease.
Every other tissue that has a blood supply – brain, muscle etc, is potentially at risk from blood borne infections.
As a dog with dental disease breathes in, a shower of bacteria can be carried down the airways. The body’s normal defence mechanisms will manage to cope with much of this – however if the numbers of bacteria are too high, or if the lungs are sick already (for example bronchitis or as a result of heart disease), then the infection may take hold. It is important to note the effects of “passive smoking” apply to our pets as well. Households with smokers are far more likely to have pets with respiratory problems.
Ingestion of Toxins
There is little scientific evidence to back this – however anecdotally there are cases where “gastritis”, or “tummy problems” appeared to have benefitted from effective dental care.
It is the case that the bacteria associated with dental disease are not just sitting around the teeth. They are producing toxins. These can be washed off with the saliva and ingested. Some of these toxins will not be destroyed by gastric acid and may lead to problems.
Dental Disease doesn't just affect the mouth.
Did You Know?
This represents a huge source of infection for the rest of the body - kidneys, heart valves, liver and lungs.