What is periodontal disease?
Your dog’s mouth can be infected with a bacteria called periodontitis. Usually, you won’t see any obvious signs or symptoms of this silent disease until it reaches its advanced stages, but gum disease can cause gum erosion, chronic pain, tooth loss, and bone loss. Supporting structures of teeth can be weakened or lost.
When food and bacteria accumulate along the gums and are not brushed away, they can develop into plaque, which hardens into calculus known as tartar. This results in inflammation and irritation of the gums (gingivitis) and is an early stage of gum disease.
In the second stage, the attachment between teeth and gums breaks down, which intensifies in stage three and evolves into advanced periodontal disease in the fourth stage. Here you’ll see gum tissue recede, and loss of 50% of the attachment between teeth and gums. Tooth roots can become exposed.
What are the symptoms of periodontal disease in dogs?
Symptoms of canine periodontitis include:
Discolored teeth (brown or yellow)
Inflamed or bleeding gums
Loose or missing teeth
Blood on chew toys or in water bowl
Favoring one side of the mouth when chewing
Problems keeping food in mouth
“Ropey” or bloody saliva
In the advanced stages of gum diseases, your pup may be in significant chronic pain, which our pets hide out of instinct to avoid showing signs of weakness to predators.
The effects of periodontal disease don’t remain confined to your dog’s mouth - they can also lead to problems with major organs and cause heart disease when bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream, then attach to arteries surrounding the heart.
What causes periodontal disease?
Bacteria builds up in a dog’s mouth and can eventually develop into plaque, which when combined with other minerals, hardens within two to three days. Calculus is difficult to scrape away from teeth.
As the immune system begins to fight this buildup of bacteria, inflamed gums and more obvious signs of the disease become apparent.
Poor nutrition and diet can play a role in the development of plaque and bacteria that eventually cause periodontal disease. Poor grooming habits (if your pooch licks himself frequently), the alignment of his teeth (dogs with crowded teeth are more susceptible to gum disease), unclean toys, and of course, oral hygiene can create a pile-on effect.
How is periodontal disease in dogs treated?
Depending on the level of care your veterinarian can provide, your pet’s needs, and other factors, treatment measures and their cost can vary widely. Pre-anesthesia blood work is a critical step to find out if your pet is healthy enough for anesthesia medications, which can cause problems for dogs with organ disease.
Any dental procedure should include:
Pre-anesthesia blood work
IV catheter and IV fluids
A complete set of dental radiographs
Circulating warm air to ensure the patient stays warm while under anesthesia
Endotracheal intubation, oxygen, and inhaled anesthetic
Scaling, polishing, and lavage of gingival areas
Local anesthetic such as novocaine, if any extractions are needed
Pain medication during and after the procedure
How can I keep my dog from getting periodontal disease?
Fortunately, periodontal disease is preventable. If detected early, it can also be treated and reversed. You can prevent the disease by being proactive when it comes to your dog’s oral health. Just like us, they require regular dental appointments to maintain their oral hygiene and spot any areas that may give them trouble.
Your pup should see the vet at least once every six months for an oral health evaluation. You can also ask any questions you may have regarding at-home care, in addition to finding out how often your pet should come in for professional teeth cleanings.
Keep problems from developing between appointments by giving your dog’s teeth a daily brushing to prevent plaque and bacteria from forming (use a toothpaste made specifically for dogs).
There are also dental chews, dog food and chew toys specifically designed to address dental disease and keep tartar from getting out of control (but don’t try to use these to replace daily brushing - they may serve as a supplement to regular oral care). If you spot appetite changes, swollen or inflamed gums, or missing teeth, schedule an appointment today.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.