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Gum Disease In Dogs: Causes & Treatment
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Taking care of your dog’s oral hygiene is just as important as taking care of your own. While dog cavities are relatively rare, gum disease in dogs is extremely commonplace. In fact, it’s one of the most prevalent health issues among dogs overall, affecting over 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3.1
If left untreated, gum disease in dogs can quickly turn from a simple inflammation to permanent tooth loss. Not only does it come with constant, excruciating pain, but it can also completely upend your dog’s day-to-day life by hindering their ability to eat food. To keep this from ever happening to your beloved pup, early prevention and detection is crucial.
In this blog post, we'll delve into the ins and outs of gum disease in dogs, from the stages of dog gum infection to its various causes and more. Want to know how you can implement good dental care habits for your dog at a young age? Keep reading to find out.
- What Is Gum Disease?
- Stages Of Gum Disease
- Signs & Symptoms Of Gum Disease In Dogs
- What Causes Gum Disease In Dogs?
- How Can Gum Disease In Dogs Be Prevented?
- Final Notes
What Is Gum Disease?
Canine gum disease, also known as periodontal disease in dogs, is a bacterial infection of the tissue surrounding teeth. Starting out as an inflammation of the gums, this infection slowly spreads to destroy the ligaments that secure your dog’s teeth in place and the bones in their jaws. Dog periodontal disease is one of the most common reasons for tooth loss in dogs.2
Although this disease has a frightening progression, it has a very simple cause—a lack of oral hygiene. After eating, residual food in your dog’s mouth mixes with their saliva to create plaque, a sticky biofilm of bacteria that coats their teeth. If plaque is not removed from the teeth in three days, it hardens into tartar.3 With a rough, porous surface, tartar is like a magnet for bacteria, including harmful, disease-causing bacteria. When this bacteria migrates below the gum line, that’s when your dog’s immune system kicks in, creating inflammation in an attempt to initiate the healing process.3
Take care of your dog’s tooth health to prevent dog gum infection. From brushing their teeth daily and scheduling regular dental exams to feeding them an oral care diet, there are many ways to make sure plaque doesn’t build up on your dog’s teeth to cause more problems in the future.
Stages Of Gum Disease
Gum disease in dogs can be separated into four stages of severity.3 They are:
- Gingivitis: Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease in dogs. It is often first noticed in dogs around 2 years old.2 During this stage, only the gums are inflamed, appearing red and swollen. Generally, with professional cleaning and proper dental care at home, your dog’s gingivitis can recover. However, if this dog gum infection is not taken care of in a timely manner, it can progress to periodontitis, which is irreversible.
- Mild bone loss: There can be several years between the first and second stage of dog periodontal disease, with the second stage marking the start of periodontitis.2 During this stage, your dog’s gum infection begins to affect their dental ligaments and jaw bones, creating an abnormally deep space between their teeth and gum tissue. They will lose around 25 percent of their tooth support structure.3
- Moderate bone loss: In stage 3 of gum disease, your dog will lose 25 to 50 percent of their tooth support structure.3 In addition to inflamed gums, bleeding gums, receding gums, and bad breath, their teeth will become loose or even fall out.
- Severe bone loss: The last stage of dog periodontal disease is severe bone loss, with your dog losing more than 50 percent of their tooth support structure.3 When looking at your dog’s mouth, you may notice loose teeth, missing teeth, exposed roots, and pus around the gum line. Treatment for this stage is difficult and extractions are often needed for your dog’s gum tissue to heal.
Scheduling dental exams every 6 to 12 months can help detect any signs of dog periodontal disease and halt its progression at the gingivitis stage. The importance of an at-home dental care routine cannot be overstated either. Keep a close eye on your dog’s oral health to protect their overall well-being.
Signs & Symptoms Of Gum Disease In Dogs
The signs and symptoms of gum disease in dogs can vary from dog to dog. While some dogs may exhibit very apparent symptoms, other dogs may seem totally normal.
In general, the most common indicators of dog periodontal disease include:
- Red and swollen gums
- Gums that bleed when eating or brushing
- Receding gums
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Missing teeth
- Exposed root surfaces
- Hesitating to eat
- Refusing to eat2
What Causes Gum Disease In Dogs?
Periodontal disease in dogs is caused by poor dental hygiene, but a dog’s breed, size, genetics, age, diet, and overall health condition are also contributing factors.4
Compared to larger dogs, smaller dogs are more at risk of gum disease.2 With proportionally larger teeth, smaller dogs often suffer from tooth overcrowding, which can increase plaque and tartar buildup. If your dog has a compromised immune system, they will have a harder time fighting off dog gum infection as well.
Dogs that regularly eat kibble, on the other hand, have a slightly lower chance of developing gum disease. The hard texture of kibble creates friction against the teeth as your dog chews, cleaning them mechanically.2
Dogs with periodontal disease suffer from persistent pain that impedes basic functions such as eating and drinking. If you suspect your dog has gum disease, get them the help they need right away.
The treatment for gum disease in dogs depends on how severely your dog is affected. While most cases of gingivitis can be reversed with a combination of professional teeth cleaning and at-home dental upkeep, periodontitis treatment often requires surgery and extractions.
Generally, for any dog periodontal disease treatment, your veterinarian will first conduct a comprehensive oral health assessment and a pre-anesthetic exam. If your dog is cleared for anesthesia, they will be sedated and receive a thorough dental cleaning. During this process, tartar is scaled off and every tooth is polished, especially near the gum line.
After cleaning is completed, your veterinarian may also apply a dental sealant to your dog’s teeth or administer an antibiotic oral rinse. To accurately determine whether your dog needs further treatment, they may perform a dental x-ray to assess the degree of tooth support loss as well. If your dog’s gum disease is severe, their teeth that are too diseased to save will need to be extracted in order for their gum tissue to heal.
Treatment for gum disease in dogs does not end with a visit to the animal hospital. You’ll need to continue their dental care at home with frequent brushing, the use of dental additives, and more. If your dog doesn’t appear to be recovering despite treatment, they may have an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, that needs to be addressed first.2
How Can Gum Disease In Dogs Be Prevented?
Maintaining your dog’s oral hygiene is the best way to prevent dental disease in dogs. It’s impossible for gum disease to develop around clean teeth, so good dental hygiene is important. Here are some ways to ensure your dog's teeth are in top condition.
At-Home Dental Care
Create good habits at a young age and get your dog started on a dental care routine. Supplement daily toothbrushing with additives and toys that can aid in dental hygiene. To prevent dog periodontal disease at home, follow these best practices:
- Brush your dog’s teeth every day: Brushing your dog’s teeth every day is a commitment, but it’s well worth it to ensure their health. Start by familiarizing your dog with their dog-friendly toothpaste and toothbrush. Let your dog sniff the toothpaste and get them used to the taste before anything else. If your dog refuses toothbrushing at all costs, use oral cleansing wipes every 2 to 3 days while you try to find a solution.
- Enhance your dog’s food or water with dental additives: Dental additives come in liquid and powder forms. Add them to your dog’s food or water to keep their breath fresh, fight tartar buildup, and prevent gum disease. Most dental additives are odorless and tasteless, so your dog can just eat and drink as usual.
- Use dental treats and chew toys: Some dental treats are specially formulated to help remove plaque and tartar from a dog's teeth. As the dog chews the treat, the abrasive texture can help scrub away plaque and tartar, keeping teeth and gums healthy. The same goes for chew toys, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures.
Veterinarian dental cleanings are important for dogs because they provide a deep clean of the teeth and gums that cannot be achieved through at-home brushing and dental care alone. During a cleaning, your veterinarian will remove plaque and tartar buildup, check for signs of dog gum infection, and perform any necessary treatments to keep your dog's mouth healthy. Additionally, regular veterinary cleanings can help catch oral health problems as soon as they crop up, preventing more serious and potentially expensive dental problems in the future.
Gum disease in dogs is a serious problem that can lead to chronic pain, loose teeth, and tooth loss. Luckily, it can be easily prevented with regular dental care, including at-home brushing and professional cleanings.
If you have any concerns about your dog's dental health, speak with a Dutch veterinarian. Dutch is an online vet service that provides affordable, high-quality treatment for a variety of pet health issues, including anxiety, coughing, trembling, and more.
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Enlund Brunius, Karolina. et al. “Dog Owners' Perspectives on Canine Dental Health—A Questionnaire Study in Sweden." Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 9 Jun. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297050/.
Reiter, Alexander M. "Dental Disorders of Dogs." Merck Veterinary Manual, Oct 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/veterinary/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/dental-disorders-of-dogs#v3202066.
McCalley, Elizabeth. "Periodontal (Gum) Disease in Dogs." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/mouth/c_multi_periodontal_disease.
Merck Publishing and Merial, Cynthia M Kahn BA MA, et al. "The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health." 23 Oct. 2007, https://books.google.com/books?id=fQ_iAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=#v=onepage&q&f=false.