Periodontal Disease In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

tartar teeth of old dog in studio

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Periodontal disease in dogs is an inflammation or infection that results in the weakening or loss of support structures of the teeth. Gum disease is one of the most common afflictions in dogs with over 80 percent of dogs having early stages of gum disease by the time they are three years old. Periodontal disease happens when food and bacteria accumulate along the gums and form plaque, which turns into calculus (also known as tartar). The calculus causes irritation and inflammation of the gums, which is known as gingivitis and is an early stage of periodontal disease. Over time, calculus builds under the gums and causes them to separate from the teeth. Bacteria can grow in these spaces, and eventually periodontal disease becomes irreversible, resulting in bone and tissue loss, and teeth end up falling out. This can lead to several more health problems and complications. If you see the signs of periodontal disease, consult your veterinarian so they can form a proper treatment plan and advise you on how to maintain your dog’s oral health. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for periodontal disease in dogs.

Symptoms Of Periodontal Disease In Dogs

The vet is using the tool for the treatment of gingivitis in the open mouth of the dog under anesthesia.

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Sometimes the symptoms of periodontal disease in dogs aren’t noticeable until the gum disease has progressed to a more advanced stage, which is why it is important to thoroughly and regularly examine your dog’s mouth for any abnormalities.

Usually periodontal disease begins around one tooth and progresses from there. In stage 1 periodontal disease, dogs show signs of gingivitis, though teeth aren’t separated from the gums during this stage. As dogs progress to stage 2, 25 percent of the attachment between the affected teeth and gums will be lost. During stage 3 of periodontal disease, that can grow to 30 percent of attachment loss. In stage 4, also known as advanced periodontal disease, more that 50 percent of the attachment between gums and teeth is lost, the gum tissue recedes, and the roots of the teeth may be exposed.

Here are some of the common signs of gum disease that may eventually lead to advanced periodontal disease if the condition is left untreated.

  • Bleeding or red gums (or signs of blood on chew toys or in food and water bowls)
  • Signs of irritation in the mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Irritability
  • Loose teeth or, at advanced stages, teeth falling out
  • Bad breath

Causes Of Periodontal Disease In Dogs

A young Shorkie Dog (cross breed of a Yorkshire Terrier and Shih Tzu)chews on a red toy im the family home

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Gum disease that can lead to advanced periodontal disease in dogs is caused by a buildup of bacteria and food, which eventually becomes plaque. Plaque can combine with minerals and harden within two to three days to form calculus. The dog’s immune system fights the bacterial buildup, which leads to inflammation. Calculus continues to build and pulls the gums away from the teeth, creating pockets where bacteria can grow. Abscesses start to form, tissue and bone deteriorate, and the teeth become loose.

Some dogs are more at risk for developing advanced periodontal disease. Most cases of severe gum disease are seen in older dogs. Dogs with compromised immune systems are more open to infection and less able to fight off bacteria. Diet is also a factor, as poor nutrition contributes to gum disease. Chewing behaviors and grooming habits can cause bacteria to build up, especially when dogs chew dirty toys or bones or if they lick themselves frequently. The actual alignment of the teeth can be a problem, too, and small or toy breeds with crowded teeth are more susceptible to gum disease. Finally, oral hygiene is a major factor. If you neglect your dog’s oral health, you can expect gum disease to be present at some point.

Treatments For Periodontal Disease In Dogs

Middle aged male and femal vets examining Golden retriever. Vet examining teeth at veterinarian's office.

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Treatment for periodontal disease in dogs begins with a thorough exam and x-rays to determine the stage of the disease and the extent of the damage. Antibiotics may be given to prevent bacteria from spreading during dental work. Treatment after that depends on the findings of the examination and what stage of periodontal disease is present.

For stage 1 or 2 periodontal disease, a thorough cleaning above and below the gums can remove plaque, and calculus can be removed with a device called an ultrasonic scaler. Teeth with be polished to fill in any crevices on so bacteria cannot attach itself and form plaque.

In cases of stage 3 or 4 periodontal disease, a full cleaning is still necessary, but further treatment is also required. There are several types of procedures that may be used. Planing and subgingival curettage removes diseased teeth and tissue and smooths the surface of the root. A gingivectomy is another procedure that can removed diseased gums. Periodontal surgery can open gums to exposed affected roots so they can be cleaned, treated with antibiotics, sealed, and provided with bone growth stimulants. In some cases, extraction of loose, cracked, or dying teeth is necessary. Pain medication and a soft food diet may be needed for 3 to 4 weeks after surgery.

The best way to fight periodontal disease is to prevent it with proper diet, being responsible about what your dog is allowed to chew, and maintaining proper oral hygiene. Different dogs have different requirements for dental care, so you should ask your veterinarian about how often you should be brushing your dog’s teeth and how to do so properly. Keep up with regular veterinary exams, and keep an eye out for the signs of gum disease. Periodontal disease can cause irreversible damage, but if it is stopped early, that damage can be minimized or prevented.

How do you keep your dog’s teeth healthy? Do you check for signs of gum disease? Let us know in the comments below!

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