Periodontal disease is the most common disease in adult dogs.
A staggering 87% of dogs over the age of three will be affected to some degree by dental disease.
Dogs differ to us in that they are less affected by tooth decay and more by gum disease (periodontal disease).
Unfortunately, disease starts below the gum line so you might not know there’s a problem until it’s got worse.
Regular tooth-brushing is key to preventing this common problem.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is what we call the inflammation and infection of the gum, bones of the mouth and other structures that keep the teeth in place (the periodontium).
Problems first occur when plaque (which hardens and becomes tartar) starts to build up on teeth above and below the gum line. This causes irritation of the gum tissue and allows bacteria to flourish, causing further damage to the supporting structures of the teeth (the periodontium).
This process can be broken down into 4 stages.
Stage 1: Gingivitis
Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) occurs due to plaque build-up. We spot gingivitis because the gums look red and puffy and they might bleed when we brush them or when your dog chews a toy. Your dog may have mild bad breath.
This stage is reversible with treatment and good oral hygiene at home.
Stage 2: Early Periodontitis
Periodontitis is infection and inflammation of the tissue around the teeth (gum disease). The gum is starting to become detached from the tooth. Worryingly, even by this point your dog may have lost 25% of the bone around the teeth. The plaque starts to harden to tartar and becomes more noticeable. With this bad breath will develop.
Professional treatment and good oral hygiene at home can prevent this from becoming irreversible.
Stage 3: Moderate Periodontitis
This is when serious dental damage begins to occur. During this stage we see further gum and bone loss - this can be as much as 25-50% being lost. This will be painful for your dog, their teeth might start to wobble and you’ll notice some pretty stinky breath (halitosis).
By now, teeth might have to be removed to stop things getting worse and settle down that pain.
With some veterinary dental treatment and good home care, this should help to prevent things from developing to the next stage.
Stage 4: Advanced Periodontitis
Long term bacterial infection and inflammation will have severely damaged the gums, teeth and bone, leading to more than 50% bone loss. This will be causing severe pain and there is high risk of the bacteria entering the bloodstream and spreading through the body, damaging your dogs’ vital organs (their heart, liver and kidneys). You may see pus oozing from around the teeth or that some of your dog’s teeth are wobbly or even missing.
The only treatment for teeth in stage 4 is extraction. Your dog will likely require antibiotics and invasive dental treatment to get on top of the situation.
What are the general signs of dental disease?
Gradual loss of interest in toys or chews
Increased drooling or dribbling.
Change in eating habits – perhaps preferring to eat softer food and/or avoiding biscuits.
Chewing on one side
Pawing at mouth or rubbing the side of the face
Blood in food or water bowl
What do I do if I suspect my dog is showing signs of dental disease?
Contact your vet as soon as possible if you notice your dog is showing any of these signs. Early stage gingivitis can progress rapidly to stage 4 – advanced periodontitis, which is not only severely damaging to your dog’s mouth, but can also affect its other organs.
Prevention – the important bit!
Regular toothbrushing (daily if possible!) – this is by far the best way to prevent periodontal disease from occurring. It physically removes and prevents plaque build-up.
Oral gel/toothpastes – some toothpastes contain enzymes which break down plaque and are designed to be sticky and coat the teeth, preventing further plaque from sticking. This is not as good as toothbrushing as it does not physically remove plaque but is a useful alternative if your dog will not tolerate toothbrushing.
Diets – Some diets are specially designed to reduce plaque build-up. These are dry and the specially formulated kibble is designed to clean teeth as your pet chews. Again, this is not as effective as a good toothbrushing regime.
Dental toys – there are a number of dental toys available which are designed to help clean your dog’s teeth and gums as they chew on them.
Regular check-ups - regular vet checks will help detect early signs of dental disease so that action can be taken before it progresses. Your vet may advise a scale and polish if plaque and tartar are starting to build up.
Things to avoid - there has been a rather alarming rise in non veterinary professionals offering 'anaesthesia free' dentals. Although on the surface these may appear to be positive to keep on top of dental disease they can actually be very damaging and should be avoided. One of the most important areas to clean and examine is the gingival sulcus or periodontal pocket. This is the area below the gum line surrounding the teeth. This area is very delicate and easily damaged so for the welfare of your beloved dog must be done under general anaesthesia. Furthermore simply removing the visible calculus (tartar) from above the gum line is not effective or useful in tackling dental disease. Although it may visibly make the teeth look better it can delay effective treatment that can
only be done under a general anaesthetic.