Periodontal Disease in Dogs
What is periodontal disease in dogs
Periodontal disease is a condition that affects the tissues around teeth in dogs.
Periodontal diseases are characterized by destruction of the supporting structures surrounding teeth.
Periodontitis refers to inflammation (swelling) within the gum tissue (also known as gingival).
The periodontium or periodontal ligament is made up of connective tissues including fibers that attach the tooth germ to alveolar bone which surround the tooth socket in your pet's mouth.
It's also surprisingly getting more common these days, perhaps due to the food that they eat, as well as their relatively more sedentary lifestyle (source)
What causes canine periodontal disease?
Canine Periodontal Disease is generally starts from plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that attaches to teeth.
Periodontal disease develops when plaque buildup is not removed via brushing your dog's teeth or veterinary dental cleanings.
Plaque becomes more acidic in nature and changes structure due to the presence of different bacteria in it over time.
These factors make the plaque even harder to remove with professional cleaning alone.
Tartar starts forming under the gum line when plaque has been allowed to accumulate for 6 months or longer.
Once tartar forms, it provides an even larger surface area for bacterial growth resulting in what we call calculus (tartar).
Periodontitis results when infection spreads into the gum tissue surrounding teeth, causing inflammation and eventual loss of teeth and jaw bone mass.
Periodontal disease in dogs can also be caused by bacterial infections or poor dental care.
This can lead to pain when chewing or eating, excessive drooling, bleeding when grazing on food, bad breath odors, and loosened teeth.
Stages of periodontal disease in dogs
Periodontal disease is in four stages - Stage 0, Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and stage 4.
Stage 0 is basically the stage before anything happens - very minor tartar buildup, and clean crowns.
Basically, your dog has super clean teeth, and has no issues.
Stage 1 is when there is a small, but obvious amount of tartar buildup on the teeth, and slightly swollen gums. (Also known as gingivitis in dogs)
At this point, home brushing your dog's teeth might begin to be painful for your dog.
At this point, you might need to bring your dog into the vet for a professional cleaning (under anesthesia).
There is thankfully no bone loss at this point.
At a Stage 2 periodontal disease in dogs, they will need a professional teeth clean (under anesthetic) by a veterinarian trained in veterinary dentistry ASAP.
There is significant buildup of tartar on their teeth, and the gums are very visibly swollen and red.
Bone loss is also estimated to be somewhere around 0 to 25% loss.
This is the latest stage that your dog will get to before it suffers further significant loss of bone.
Loss of bone means loss of support for the tooth. Advanced bone loss is not an easy or cheap problem to fix.
Stage 3 and 4
At stage 3 and 4, bone loss is very significant, especially under an X-ray.
There are not many more things that you can do as an owner, and treatment will require a specialized (and very expensive) vet that deals with orthodontics.
Most likely, the vet will need to extract the rotten teeth, but MAY be able to some the least damaged ones (see the follow-up section below)
If the vet determines your dog's periodontal disease to be at stage 4, there's very little they can do as well.
Do not let it go to this stage!
Symptoms of periodontal disease in dogs
Mild canine periodontal disease can be difficult to spot unless you know what signs to look for.
As mentioned above, periodontal diseases in dogs may lead to tooth loss, pain when chewing or eating, excessive drooling, bleeding when grazing on food, bad breath odors.
The more common symptoms of Periodontitis include:
- Bad breath
- Flinching or pulling away from you when you try to look at their teeth
- The lips of your pet may quiver and shake
- Dogs may growl and snap because they are in pain
- Red, swollen gums
- Tartar build-up
- The bulge of the crown, which is usually hidden from view, can be seen
- The roots of the teeth may be visible (it is not supposed to be.)
- Open wounds on the face under the eye, on the lower jaws, in the mouth
- Ulcers forming in the mouth or lips
- Rubbing their faces on carpets and furniture
- Sleeping a lot, decreased activity, poor appetite, dropping food and hard treats
Diagnosis of periodontal disease in dogs
Periodontal disease in dogs is diagnosed through a process called Periodontal probing.
Periodontal probes are used to measure the depth of pockets around your pet's teeth which tells us how severe their Periodontitis is and if treatment is needed or not.
Periodontal probing will also show us if tartar has built up below the gum line and how much tartar there is to remove.
A plaque disclosing solution can be used prior to Periodontal probing to determine where plaque and calculus (tartar) may exist on your pet's teeth.
Canine periodontal disease can also be measured with special devices such as dental X-rays can help veterinarians see beneath the gums for any irregularities.
Treatment options for the periodontitis in dogs
As a preventive measure, periodontal disease in dogs can be minimized or even prevented altogether with a combination of veterinary dental cleanings and home dental care.
There are also multiple treatment options available for periodontal disease.
Brushing your dog's teeth
First and foremost - you should be giving your dog regular teeth brushing at home, daily.
Remember that dogs are the descendants domesticated wolves - they are no longer 'wild' and have a reliance on us humans to care for them.
Veterinary dog teeth cleaning
professional teeth cleaning removes tartar from below your pet's gums that brushing at home cannot remove alone.
This is done by using a specialized instrument called a dental scaler which has a sharp tip to scrape tartar from tooth surfaces.
Veterinarians also have access to special dental polishing instruments that help smooth out jagged edges on teeth.
This is so bacteria will not be able to grow in small pockets of gum, where food particles can get stuck again.
What if Periodontal disease in dogs is left untreated
What happens if the periodontal disease in dogs is left untreated?
As you can see from the above, once it hits Stage 2, a lot of problems will become very clear.
Once it goes past stage 3, there's no turning back from the damage that the periodontal disease has caused.
Over time, it will lead to tooth loss, pain when chewing or eating, excessive drooling, bleeding when grazing on food.
Periodontal disease will eventually cause bacteria build-up in the sinuses due to the destruction of the jaw bone that now makes it difficult for your pet's teeth to attach firmly into place.
If periodontal disease in dogs is left untreated, it may also lead to bone loss around your pet's teeth which could eventually lead to tooth loss.
In end stage periodontal disease, the infections from their gingivitis can cause blood poisoning, causing your dog to go into a coma, or even cause death.
Can periodontal disease in dogs be reversed?
Yes, Periodontal disease in dogs can be reversed when caught early in the stages of Periodontitis (Stage 2 at the latest).
If tartar has already built up below your pet's gums, then Periodontitis can still be reversed if caught early enough.
Periodontitis in dogs is treatable with several different veterinary procedures which are increased in strength the more severe the periodontal disease becomes.
Treatment for early stage Periodontal disease in dogs usually requires deep scaling around the roots of teeth which removes bacteria and calculus (tartar) from beneath the gum line.
Treatment options increase in severity as Periodontitis becomes worse until eventually surgical treatment is required to remove diseased gum tissue and bone that support tooth sockets.
Preventing canine periodontal disease
We can also help prevent Periodontal disease in dogs by preventing tartar buildup through a daily dental hygiene regimen.
Prevention of Periodontitis in dogs includes brushing affected dog's teeth weekly and cleaning any excess plaque from your pet's teeth with special toothpastes and dental wipes.
Dental diets and chews are also recommended for some pets to help control Periodontitis and Periodontal disease in dogs while they receive treatment.
Dietary changes, such as the addition of certain ingredients, may be beneficial in helping to reduce or even reverse early stage Periodontitis when combined with veterinarian supervised home dental care such as brushing, polishing and rinsing of your pet's mouth.
Follow up treatment of dog periodontal disease
Veterinarians may recommend a series of home dental care treatments to go along with veterinary teeth cleanings.
Dogs that have had Periodontal disease need to see a veterinarian every three months until the Periodontitis is under control.
For more serious cases, your vet might also prescribe medication for your dog.
Of course, the best cure is preventing Periodontal disease in dogs in the first place.
It can be reduced or prevented by being aware of its warning signs and getting your pet professional teeth cleanings on a regular basis.
However, Periodontal disease is more common in older dogs.
So if your pet's teeth start to show any of the usual symptoms, bring them to an animal hospital for a dental checkup as soon as possible.