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Gingivitis and stomatitis in dogs and cats

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Gingivitis refers to inflammation of the gums in dogs and cats. Gingivitis is most commonly caused by bacterial infection in the mouth associated with poor oral hygiene in pets. These bacteria lead to plaque, tartar, and eventually a hard mineral deposit called calculus. The inflammation associated with this process results in pain, bleeding, and tooth loss for your pet (see also Dental disease).

Stomatitis refers to inflammation of the soft tissues in the mouth such as the tongue, lips, and tissues lining the oral cavity. Stomatitis can be caused by an infection in the mouth or by an inflammatory process associated with more widespread illness. Possible causes include dental disease, hormonal disorders (eg, diabetes), kidney failure, immune system problems, drug reactions, viral or fungal infections, foreign bodies, or bite wounds. Severe stomatitis can develop if a pet bites an electrical cord or eats toxic plants or chemicals.

The most common signs of gingivitis in pets include a thin red line where the gums meet the teeth, swollen or bleeding gums, bad breath, and build up of plaque and calculus. Stomatitis can cause even more severe inflammation that involves ulcers and swelling in some other tissues of the mouth. Additional signs of illness may include swelling around the eyes or mouth. Pets often stop eating, especially hard foods, because of pain.

Diagnosis is primarily based on history and an oral examination. Blood and urine tests are often recommended to look for underlying disease. X-rays of the mouth may be taken to determine if there is any damage to the roots and other supporting structures of the teeth. Bacterial cultures or a biopsy of the gums may also be recommended.

Treatment for gingivitis usually begins with a professional dental cleaning to remove plaque, clean and smooth the tooth surfaces, and extract rotten teeth. Antibiotics, oral rinses, and anti-inflammatory medications are often needed to clear up infection and relieve pain. Pets are often placed on a soft diet until pain and inflammation in the mouth resolve.

Most pets do very well after treatment for gingivitis. However, proper follow-up care consisting of periodic dental cleanings and at-home care (eg, teeth brushing) is important to prevent the condition from returning.

Q&A

What is gingivitis in pets?

Gingivitis is the medical term for inflammation of the gums.  This is usually caused by the buildup of bacterial plaque, tartar, and mineral deposits associated with poor oral hygiene. 

What is stomatitis in pets?

Stomatitis refers to inflammation of the soft tissues in the mouth such as the tongue, lips, and tissues lining the oral cavity.  It can be caused by infection in the mouth (often associated with dental disease) or by more widespread inflammatory process, including hormonal disorders (eg, diabetes), kidney failure, immune system problems, drug reactions, or viral or fungal infections. 

How are these conditions treated?

Treatment usually begins with a professional dental cleaning, often followed by antibiotics, oral rinses, and anti-inflammatory medications to clear up infection and relieve pain. 

How can gingivitis be prevented in pets?

Proper follow-up care consisting of periodic dental cleanings and at-home care (eg, teeth brushing) is important to prevent the condition from returning.
 

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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