Periodontal disease is the most common type of mouth disease in dogs. It’s estimated that more than 80% of dogs over the age of 2 have some form of dental problem.
Periodontal disease can be called gingivitis or periodontitis. It’s caused by the build-up of plaque along the gumline, resulting in swollen and red gums. It can easily progress to loss of tooth support. This condition is treatable with proper care. A more aggressive form of this disease can be seen in Maltese, Schnauzer, Scottish terrier, sighthound, and West Highland white terrier breeds.
What is periodontal disease in dogs?
- Periodontal disease combines essentially two diseases: gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Gingivitis is inflammation and infection of the gingiva or gums. It’s considered the earliest stage of periodontal disease.
- Periodontitis is an advanced form of the disease that includes infection of tooth ligaments and loss of tooth support.
- The accumulation of bacteria and food particles in your dog’s mouth leads to a sticky film called plaque. If the plaque is not removed on a regular basis, it will harden and turn into tartar (also called calculus).
- Plaque and tartar accumulate under the gums and on tooth surfaces, resulting in inflammation and infection of the gums and even the ligaments and bones.
- There is great variation in the way the gums react to plaque. Some dogs accumulate plaque with little gum reaction, while others have severe reactions.
- Left untreated, bacterial infection of the gum pocket will always progress into loss of tooth support (periodontitis). This causes pain, bone destruction, and tooth loss.
- Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through severe inflammation, bleeding gums, and tooth loss, causing infection or inflammation throughout the body.
Signs of periodontal disease in dogs
Signs of periodontal disease in dogs include:
- Yellow, brown, or grey build-up on teeth (plaque and tartar)
- Bad breath
- Red gums (especially on the cheek-facing side)
- Drooling and/or blood in the saliva
- Signs of pain: pawing at the face, reduced appetite, drooling, changes in behaviour
- Difficulty eating or dropping food
Are some dogs more at risk of periodontal disease than others?
Any dog, regardless of breed, sex, or age, can develop this condition.
There are a few risk factors, though:
- Old age
- Preference for soft foods
- Crowded and misaligned teeth (commonly seen in short-faced breeds, toy breeds, and micro-breeds)
- Dogs with concurrent systemic problems (such as diabetes or Cushing’s disease)
Small jaw size and crowded teeth are usually seen in toy- and small-breed dogs. This is why we typically see more tartar in these animals.
How is periodontal disease diagnosed in dogs?
Vets usually diagnose periodontal disease based on the following:
- History taking: changes and problems you notice as an owner
- Physical examination: checking the mouth and teeth, usually under sedation. A dental probing instrument can be used to allow further assessment.
- Mouth radiographs (X-rays): to look for any damage to the tooth roots and other supporting structures
- Urine and blood tests: to look for any underlying disease
What’s the treatment for periodontal disease in dogs?
Treatment will depend on the cause of the disease:
- The first step is to remove plaque and tartar from your dog’s teeth under anaesthesia.
- Your vet will then treat any other causes related to the disease. This includes:
- Afterwards, continued oral hygiene at home is essential.
How to help your dog with periodontal disease
After your dog has professional dental care at your vet, it’s vital that you continue to keep their teeth clean at home to minimise plaque buildup.
Here are some examples in order of effectiveness:
- Brush your dog’s teeth: ideally once a day, but at least once every 3-4 days.
- Wipe their teeth daily with a rough gauze or a finger pad.
- Provide dental prescription food. Hill’s Prescription Diet Dental Care t/d is a good option as it reduces plaque, stain, and tartar buildup and helps clean the gum line.
- Add dry kibble to their meals.
- Use antiseptic gels or rinses.
- Add liquid or food supplements to their water or food.
There is no liquid or supplement that will remove tartar on its own without toothbrushing.
Our Joii vets are available 24 hours a day, call us now for advice about oral hygiene in cats.
How to prevent periodontal disease in dogs
In most animals, periodontal disease can be prevented.
Plaque must be kept from building up on teeth.
As mentioned above, oral hygiene at home is vital.
Besides brushing, professional cleanings under anaesthesia are often needed since brushing is such a difficult task.
Some animals require this every year or so.
When to worry
When to worry about your dog’s periodontal disease
If your dog shows any of the following signs, call your vet:
- Pawing at the face
- Drooling saliva
- Dropping food
- Not eating
- Not improving despite treatment
Call us at Joii if you need help with:
- How to improve your dog’s oral hygiene
- How to brush your dog’s teeth
- Changing their food
- Identifying pain in your dog