Apr 21

OraStrip: Detecting the unseen risk of periodontal disease in your pet

We’ve all heard about and understand the importance of brushing and flossing our teeth daily to prevent periodontal disease.  However, periodontal disease does not just affect the people in your home.  A whopping 85% of dogs already have periodontal disease causing irreversible bone loss by age 3, even when their mouth appears to be “healthy” during a visual exam.  Often, pets are not brought in for their first dental cleaning until there is already significant evidence of dental disease on an oral exam.  Because periodontal disease starts long before these obvious changes occur in the mouth, some pets can go years with an undiagnosed and painful infection.  At The Carolinas Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic, we use OraStrip to detect and monitor periodontal infection in every patient who comes through our doors.

What is periodontal disease?   

In order to understand how OraStrip works, it’s important to first understand periodontal disease and how it’s diagnosed.  Periodontal disease is an infection of the gingiva caused by anaerobic bacteria that live below the gum line.  A thin, adhesive film comprised of carbohydrates, fats and proteins coats the teeth and develops into dental plaque once oral bacteria enter this mixture.  Dental plaque is eventually transformed by mineral salts in the food into the rough, hardened, brown calculus we can see on pets’ teeth during an oral exam.  As plaque and bacteria continue to accumulate, the gum tissue (or periodontium) becomes infected; this is called periodontal disease.  As periodontal disease progresses, by-products of these bacteria erode away the support structures of the tooth, resulting in painful, irreversible bone loss.  When periodontal disease is not treated, these subgingival bacteria continue to create deeper pockets through bone destruction, which can eventually cause tooth loss and other problems throughout the body.  Studies have linked periodontal disease with heart, liver, and kidney diseases.

How does OraStrip work?

The bacteria implicated in causing periodontal disease produce large quantities of metabolic products called thiols.  Thiols play a major role in the destruction of healthy bone in pets with periodontal disease.  OraStrip directly measures the concentration of thiols in the salivary fluid from the margin of the gum line, thereby providing an accurate estimate of the extent of periodontal infection.

At CAHDC, we use OraStrip as a painless and easy way to assess our patients for periodontal disease.  We can also use OraStrip to monitor the effectiveness of at-home dental care in patients previously diagnosed with periodontal disease.  We lift the lip of the pet, then gently glide the pad of the strip along the upper gum line on both sides.  The color change on the pad is then compared to the color chart on the OraStrip card.  The intensity of the color on the strip is directly correlated to the concentration of thiols in the sample, which gives an indication of the extent of periodontal infection.

Treatment of periodontal disease

In our patient population, greater than 90% of pets with an OraStrip score of 3, 4 or 5 have been shown to be living with active periodontal infection and bone loss.  We routinely recommend a comprehensive oral exam and dental radiographs in patients with an OraStrip score that indicates active periodontal disease.   If we are able to intervene with a dental cleaning before the OraStrip reaches 3, we can work to prevent periodontal bone loss and reverse the patient’s gingivitis.  With that said, we strongly recommend that a dental cleaning be performed when the OraStrip score is a 2 in order to avoid dental extractions and to minimize the length of the patient’s anesthesia.

In addition, given the prevalence of periodontal disease in pets and in line with the recommendations put forth by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), we recommend annual examinations and dental cleanings under general anesthesia starting at one year for cats and small-breed dogs, and at two years of age for larger-breed dogs.  This allows us to examine the teeth, identify early issues before they become major problems, and address any painful areas or other abnormalities we may identify.

At CAHDC, OraStrip is an invaluable tool that helps us detect periodontal infection in its earliest stages.  Please feel free to talk to any of our staff members at your next visit if you have any questions about your pet’s OraStrip score.  We look forward to working with you to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and pain-free!

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About the Author:

Dr. Andrea Olson graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. She practiced in Omaha, Nebraska, for three years before moving to Charlotte with her husband in 2014. Dr. Olson is one of CAHDC’s general practice veterinarians, with a focus on general practice dentistry. Her other professional interests include ultrasonography, internal medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, Dr. Olson enjoys running, enjoying the outdoors and the beautiful North Carolina weather, and spending time with her husband, young daughter, and two dogs. Both Notre Dame grads, Dr. Olson and her husband are devoted Irish football fans.

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