What is periodontal disease in dogs?
Periodontitis is a bacteria that can infect your dog’s mouth. This silent condition typically doesn’t show any obvious signs or symptoms in dogs until it reaches more advanced stages.
That said, gum disease can cause your pup to experience chronic pain, tooth loss, gum erosion or even bone loss as the supporting structures of your pet's teeth are weakened or lost.
Just like people, if food particles and bacteria build up along your dog's gum line and are not brushed away, plaque will develop. The plaque on your dog's teeth can then turn into a calculus which we refer to as tartar.
Tartar buildup along your dog's gum line can lead to inflammation and irritation of the gums called gingivitis. Gingivitis is an early stage of periodontal disease in both dogs and humans.
As your pet's periodontal disease continues to progress, the attachment between gums and teeth starts to become lost, which intensifies in stage three and becomes an advanced periodontal disease in the fourth stage. The fourth stage of periodontal disease in dogs is characterized by receding gum tissue, loss of 50% of the attachment between teeth and gums, and exposure to tooth roots.
What are the most common signs of periodontal disease?
While there may be little or no signs of early-stage periodontal disease in dogs, if your dog is suffering from advanced gum disease you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Discolored teeth (yellow or brown)
- Loose or missing teeth teeth
- Inflamed or bleeding gums
- Blood on chew toys or in the water bowl
- Excessive drooling
- Favoring one side of the mouth when chewing
- Problems keeping food in the mouth
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Bloody or “ropey” saliva
Periodontal disease in dogs should always be taken seriously by pet parents. Once the disease reaches the advanced stages your dog could be experiencing significant chronic pain. Not only that, as with people, the bacteria associated with periodontal disease can travel throughout your dog's body, potentially causing problems with major organs and leading to serious medical issues such as heart disease.
What are the typical causes of periodontal disease in dogs?
The gradual buildup of bacteria in your dog’s mouth develops into plaque which combines with other minerals and hardens into calculus (tartar) within just a few days. Once calculus forms on your dog's teeth, it becomes more difficult to scrape away. Subsequently, the calculus will continue to build up and eventually pull the gums away from the teeth, causing pockets in the gums where bacteria can grow. At this stage, abscesses may begin to form, tissue and bone deterioration can occur, and your dog's teeth may start to loosen. In small and toy breeds it is not unusual for advanced periodontal disease to lead to jaw fractures.
Poor nutrition and diet can play a role in the development of periodontal disease in dogs. Other contributors to the development of periodontal disease in dogs can include dirty toys, excessive grooming habits, and misalignment of teeth (dogs with crowded teeth are more vulnerable to gum disease).
How are dogs treated for periodontal disease?
If your dog has periodontal disease your vet may recommend professional cleaning or other treatments depending on the severity of your dog's oral health issues.
The cost of dental care for dogs varies depending on the level of care required and the individual vet. In order for your vet to perform a thorough examination of your dog's teeth and gums, as well as any treatments required, the use of anesthesia will be necessary. (Pre-anesthesia blood work is an important step to determine whether your pet is healthy enough for anesthesia medications).
Dental procedures for dogs should include:
- A complete set of dental radiographs
- Pre-anesthesia blood work
- IV catheter and IV fluids
- Endotracheal intubation, inhaled anesthetic and oxygen
- Circulating warm air to ensure the patient remains warm while under anesthesia
- Anesthesia monitoring
- Scaling, polishing and lavage of gingival areas
- Any extractions that may be required, local anesthesia such as novocaine
- Pain medication during and post-procedure
How can periodontal disease in dogs be prevented?
Fortunately, periodontal disease in dogs can be prevented, treated and reversed if detected in its early stages.
Don’t neglect your dog’s oral health. Just like people, dogs need regular dental appointments to keep their oral hygiene in check and to identify any trouble spots before more serious issues develop. Your pup should visit your primary vet at every six months for an oral health evaluation. These twice-yearly appointments will also provide you with an opportunity to ask your vet any questions you may have about caring for your pet's teeth at home.
Prevent problems from taking hold between appointments by brushing your dog’s teeth daily to prevent plaque and bacteria from forming (choose a toothpaste specially made for dogs). You could also offer your dog specially formulated dental chews and dog food, as well as specially designed toys that can help address dental disease and reduce the development of calculus.
If your dog shows symptoms of periodontal disease such as swollen or inflamed gums, appetite changes or missing teeth, book an appointment with your vet immediately.