Your Guide To Periodontal Disease In Dogs

Plus how to keep your dog’s mouth healthy 🦷

Periodontal disease is a serious disease that can happen to any dog, so it’s important to know what to look for, how to treat it and even how to prevent it (or at least slow down the process).

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian working with SpiritDog Training, and Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian at Paramount Pet Health, to find out more about periodontal disease in dogs.

What is periodontal disease in dogs?

Periodontal disease is the inflammation of the gums and sensitive ligaments holding the teeth in place. “In humans and pets, this is due to a bacterial infection in the form of plaque,” Dr. Burch told The Dodo. “The plaque tends to accumulate, thicken and mineralize into calculus in our dogs.”

What causes periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is caused by tartar (the brown material we see on dogs’ teeth) accumulating on teeth over time. “Its rough surface allows more plaque formation, causing more bacteria to be present around the gumline, leading to dental decay and even abscessation of the tooth [aka an infection in the tooth caused by bacteria],” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo.

“When daily brushing is not performed, the plaque and bacteria will affect the gums and bone under the gumline,” Dr. Burch said. “The bacteria and inflammation, when left untreated, begin to damage the bone and ligaments which hold the teeth in place.”

Are some dogs more likely to get it than others?

According to Dr. Burch, 80 percent of our dog population will develop some form of periodontal disease by 2 years of age.

“Some breeds are more prone to severe periodontal disease due to maligned teeth, genetics and the shape of their mouth,” Dr. Burch said.

The most commonly affected breeds include:

  • Boxers
  • Chihuahuas
  • Collies
  • Dachshunds
  • Greyhounds
  • Pugs
  • Yorkies

Additionally, dogs with brachycephalic heads (e.g.,. Pomeranians, bulldogs, etc.) are more prone to developing gum disease. “This is because their head is smaller, so the same amount of teeth have to fit into a much smaller space, resulting in overcrowding and teeth sticking out at odd angles or crunched up against each other, making it easier for plaque to be laid down,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Signs of periodontal disease

Before getting an official diagnosis from your vet, you might first notice the early signs of periodontal disease right in your home. These can include:

  • Bad breath
  • Inflammation of the gum line
  • Recession of the gum over a tooth
  • Thick calculus on the tooth, which can be light brown, dark brown or gray
  • Excessive drooling or mild bleeding from the mouth in drool or after eating
  • Reduced appetite

Stages of periodontal disease

Classification of periodontal disease by a veterinarian is in one of four stages. “Diagnosis of your pet's dental health stage occurs by visual examination, dental X-rays and measurement of pocketing of the gum around the tooth,” Dr. Burch said.

The four stages of periodontal disease are:

STAGE 1: There’s mild tartar buildup on the tooth and evidence of gingivitis (inflammation of the gum). There’s no loss of support from the tooth's ligament and no bone loss.

STAGE 2 (early periodontal disease): There’s a buildup of tartar and evidence of 25 percent of bone support loss.

STAGE 3 (moderate periodontal disease): There’s a significant buildup of tartar, inflammation of the gum line and bleeding of gums with signs of infections. There’s also evidence of 25–50 percent of bone support loss.

STAGE 4 (severe periodontal disease): This includes all above signs in addition to gum recession, exposing of tooth roots, and broken or rotten teeth. There’s also evidence of more than 50 percent of bone support loss.

Dental decay is painful, and you may notice your dog has smelly breath, reduced appetite or eating on one side, drooling, missing teeth, or bleeding gums. These are signs of infection in the mouth, and they mean a vet visit is needed.

The bacterial load in the mouth can be significant, and if the bacteria spreads from the mouth into the bloodstream, it can lead to infection in other parts of the body, such as the heart valves.

How to treat periodontal disease in dogs

Dogs showing signs of periodontal disease need to have a veterinary oral examination and most likely a professional dental cleaning.

“Professional cleanings will include dental X-rays to evaluate the damage under the gumline, removal of dental calculus and plaque, and extraction of teeth showing evidence of stage 3 or 4 periodontal disease,” Dr. Burch said.

How much does periodontal disease treatment cost?

A dental cleaning can vary from $300 to $700 and does not include any tooth extractions or advanced treatments that may be needed, depending on the severity of your pup’s periodontal disease.

“The cost of dental cleaning for pets includes pre-anesthetic bloodwork, anesthesia, anesthetic monitoring, dental X-rays, cleaning of the teeth above and below the gum line, and polishing,” Dr. Burch said. “Pets who have evidence of periodontal disease or tooth root abscesses will incur higher bills due to the need for tooth extractions or advanced treatments.”

For an idea of the cost of more advanced cleaning, Dr. Wigfall said if teeth need to be extracted, the cost can be anywhere from $400 to $2,000 (as a rough guideline). “If advanced dental work is needed, such as root canal therapy, this can be $1,500 and up,” Dr. Wigfall said.

What happens if you don't get your dog treated?

Within the mouth, untreated periodontal disease will lead to inflammation of the gums, resulting in bleeding and pain.

“As the support loss occurs, teeth can become loose, resulting in pain, and may even fall out,” Dr. Burch said. “Tooth root abscesses (a pocket of pus caused by an infection) can also form that can lead to pain, pus draining in the mouth or swelling of the cheek near the eye.”

Periodontal disease can result in local problems in the mouth and affect the rest of the body, which can make your pup really sick. “The bacteria surrounding the tooth root can gain access to the bloodstream (bacteremia),” Dr. Burch said. “Bacteremia can cause microscopic damage to the kidneys, heart muscle and liver.”

How to prevent periodontal disease in dogs

Even if you brush your dog’s teeth every day, periodontal disease might still be inevitable for some dogs just based on genetics. Luckily, having a strict at-home routine for your dog’s mouth can help reduce the plaque and tartar buildup, thus slowing down the rate of dental decay. “This means our pets' teeth stay healthier for longer,” Dr. Wigfall said.
Some of the best ways you can help keep your dog’s mouth healthy include:

Brushing your dog’s teeth at home

You should brush your dog’s teeth daily, Dr. Wigfall recommended. “Use a toothpaste specifically formulated for dogs, and ideally one from the VOHC approved product list,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Use a pet toothbrush or finger brush or child’s toothbrush as [these have] softer bristles.”

Try this Virbac C.E.T Toothbrush and Toothpaste Set from Amazon for $12.85

Giving your pup dental chews

While dental treats alone won’t stop your dog from getting periodontal disease and tooth decay, they can be a great additive to your dental care plan if they’re on the Veterinary Oral Health Council approved product list.

Try these Virbac C.E.T Veggiedent Tartar Control Chews from Amazon for $23.94

“The dental treats on this list have been scientifically proven to be beneficial (i.e., they actually do help prevent dental disease), but they do need to be used in combination with a dental care plan, including daily brushing and a yearly dental clean with the veterinarian,” Dr. Wigfall said.

No matter how young or old your dog is, it's always worth starting dental care. “Anything you do will help reduce the bacterial buildup in the mouth, thus reducing the rate of dental disease development,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Is periodontal disease in dogs reversible?

Early-stage periodontal disease is reversible with good dental hygiene. “The problem is without rigorous at-home care, the teeth will continue to have plaque buildup, and periodontal disease will start again,” Dr. Wigfall said. “The battle against periodontal disease is never-ending, and at some point your pet will need to have teeth removed, but with regular checkups and at-home toothbrushing, we can delay the inevitable by a good few years.”

So while periodontal disease is an inevitable issue for some pups, making sure you take care of your dog’s teeth daily will help reduce the severity of the infection (or help keep it at bay altogether). And be sure to check with your veterinarian ASAP if you suspect your dog might be suffering from early onset periodontal disease.

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