Dental Month

What is subgingival hair?   

Um, You’ve got a little something in your teeth… 

Have you ever heard of hairy teeth? Actually, the medical term for this gross but satisfying-to-treat condition in dogs is called subgingival hair. Yep, some dogs suffer from impacted hair in the gingival sulcus, or the space between the tooth and gums. This is a result of short-haired dogs chewing at their skin in order to scratch an itch. Although this may seem harmless and a little gross, it has the potential to lead to a subgingival infection.  

The hair that has become lodged between the teeth and gums becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. The hair and bacteria elicit an immune response by reacting to the presence of foreign material. Once the inflammatory response has mounted, periodontal pockets are created impacting oral health. If left untreated, this can progress causing structural damage to the teeth and loss of gingival attachment.  

Treatment for subgingival hair depends on the severity and whether or not there is an infection present. If the periodontal disease has not yet progressed, at-home dental care is recommended. If the teeth are brushed regularly loose hair is removed preventing it from becoming lodged in the gingiva. If the impaction is more significant, treatment must be more aggressive. This includes a dental cleaning to remove the hair and antibiotics to clear up any infection. Severe cases may require root planing or tooth extraction. While this situation is treatable, prevention is better. It is recommended that cats and dogs have dental cleanings as often as we do, every 6 months.  

As we have seen throughout Dental Health Month, there are many causes of periodontal disease. For this cause, prevention starts outside of the mouth and on the skin. Subgingival hair is caused by excessive grooming, licking, and chewing on the skin. This can be a direct result of external parasites like fleas or mites, or from allergies and atopy. In this case, dental health goes beyond cleaning teeth and includes the importance of overall health which can be achieved through regular exams and parasite control as recommended by your veterinarian.