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Gingival hyperplasia is enlargement of the gums. The enlargement may affect the entire mouth or be localized to one or several areas. The surface might be smooth, rough, or appear like grape-like clusters. This overgrowth might be so mild that it is not detectable on an awake exam, or so severe that it covers the entire tooth.
Gingival hyperplasia is a benign (not malignant) process, but the consequences of it are very significant. It results in the creation of “pseudopockets” - excessively deep pockets between the gums and the tooth surface. In turn, the pseudopockets result in increased plaque and tartar accumulation, which results in periodontal disease. The features of periodontal disease include persistent pain and infection, loose teeth and eventual tooth loss.
The cause of gingival hyperplasia usually remains obscure for any particular patient. As a breed, boxers are prone to developing it, as are Great Danes, collies, Doberman pinschers, and Dalmations. It is sometimes seen as a side effect of certain medications; one such medication that is used occasionally in veterinary medicine is cyclosporine. It is speculated that the overgrowth is an unusual response by gingival cells to long-term allergic-type stimulation of the periodontal structures.
Tentative diagnosis of gingival hyperplasia is often possible with the awake exam, and it can usually be confirmed with the anesthetized exam. Occasionally a biopsy is necessary to distinguish it from other less-common problems that can appear the same. Dental xrays are often needed in order to determine the extent of periodontal disease and to plan treatment.
Treatment of gingival hyperplasia is by gingivectomy - surgically removing the overgrown gum tissue. This is a relatively simple procedure but can be very time consuming, and thus quite costly. When secondary periodontal disease is severe, other surgical procedures, including extractions, may be needed.
Long-term control of oral inflammation with dental home care and regular professional cleaning is important to prevent or slow the recurrence of gingival hyperplasia. In our experience most patients can be effectively managed with an annual dental cleaning and a relatively minor “touch-up” gingivectomy.
Yarmouth Veterinary Center
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