Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Periodontitis is a silent disease, meaning the bacteria can quietly invade your dog's mouth and infect the oral cavity. Typically, dogs do not experience signs of symptoms until periodontal disease has reached its advanced stages. However, gum disease can cause chronic pain, erosion of the gums and even loss of bone and teeth. Structures supporting the teeth may also be weakened or lost.
Just like in humans, food and bacteria particles naturally build up along your pup's gum line. If these are not regularly brushed away, plaque can develop and harden into tartar — also known as calculus. This causes the gum line and surrounding areas to become inflamed and irritated. Clinically, this condition is referred to as gingivitis and is the first stage of gum disease.
What are symptoms of periodontal disease in dogs?
At Scottsdale Ranch Animal Hospital, we check for these well-known symptoms of periodontitis when our vets perform annual dental cleanings and exams. You can also look for them at home:
- Weight loss
- Inflamed or bleeding gums
- Excessive drooling
- Discolored teeth
- Loose or missing teeth
- Blood in water or on chew toys
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Bloody or "ropey" saliva
- Drop in appetite
- Favoring one side of the mouth while chewing
Your dog may be suffering from significant chronic pain by the time you or your veterinarian notice signs of advanced periodontitis. In these cases, pets tend to self-isolate out of instinct to avoid showing weakness to predators.
Unfortunately, periodontal disease can affect areas in your dog's body other than the mouth. This issue can result in organ damage and other problems, including heart disease as bacteria enter the bloodstream, potentially surrounding the heart.
What causes periodontal disease?
Bacteria can collect in your dog’s mouth, develop into plaque and combine with other minerals. After it has hardened (usually within two to three days), calculus develops on the teeth and becomes more difficult to scrape away. As the immune system fights the buildup of bacteria, reactions such as inflamed gums and more obvious signs of gum disease appear.
Poor nutrition and diet can also contribute to the development of periodontal disease in dogs, in addition to environmental factors such as dirty toys, alignment of teeth (dogs with crowded teeth are more vulnerable to gum disease), oral hygiene and grooming habits (does your pup lick himself frequently?).
How is periodontal disease in dogs treated?
Costs of dental procedures such as teeth cleanings may vary widely depending on the level of care provided by your veterinarian, your pet’s needs, and other factors. Your pet will need to have blood work before being put under anesthesia to ensure she’s healthy enough for the medication, which can cause problems for dogs with organ diseases.
Any dental procedure should include:
- A complete set of dental radiographs
- IV catheter and IV fluids
- Pre-anesthesia blood work
- Circulating warm air to ensure patient stays warm while under anesthesia
- Endotracheal intubation, inhaled anesthetic and oxygen
- Anesthesia monitoring
- Scaling, polishing and lavage of gingival areas
- Local anesthesia such as novocaine, if any extractions are needed
- Pain medication during and after the procedure
How can I prevent my dog from getting periodontal disease?
Fortunately, we pet parents can prevent our pooches from getting periodontal disease, and the condition can be treated and reversed - if detected early.
When it comes to your dog’s oral health, don’t neglect it or procrastinate. Similar to their people, they require regular dental appointments to keep up with oral hygiene and identify any trouble spots. Your pup should see the vet at least once each year to have her oral health evaluated.
You’ll also have the chance to ask any questions you may have regarding at-home care, and find out how often your pet should come in for professional teeth cleanings (as those with issues may need to come more frequently).
Prevent issues from developing into unmanageable situations between appointments by doing a daily brushing of your dog’s teeth to prevent bacteria and plaque from getting a foothold (choose a toothpaste made specially for dogs).
There are also dental chews, dog food and chew toys designed to address dental disease and reduce tartar development. But fair warning: don’t try to replace brushing with these - think of them as an add-on to regular oral care). If you notice inflamed or swollen gums, missing teeth or even appetite changes, book an appointment immediately.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. If you are concerned about your pet's health, contact your veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment.