Periodontal disease is the inflammation of the tissues surrounding a tooth (essentially, the tooth's support system). It can affect as little as one or two teeth or as much as a dog's whole mouth. Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to severe oral pain, loss of teeth, other dental diseases and a wide array of complications throughout the body. Proper dental care can prevent periodontal disease and is an important aspect of keeping your dog healthy.
Causes of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
The development of periodontal disease is a gradual process that begins with the formation of plaque on the teeth. Bacteria in the mouth form plaque, a bacterial film that adheres to the teeth. Next, minerals in saliva harden the plaque into dental tartar (calculus), which becomes firmly attached to teeth. The plaque and tartar, both of which contain bacteria, spread under the gum line. The bacteria secrete toxins and cause damage to the supporting tissues around the tooth, creating a pocket around the tooth.
Certain dogs seem to have a genetic predisposition to periodontal disease. This often relates to the dog's breed. Many small breed dogs, such as Dachshunds and Chihuahuas are especially prone to periodontal disease.
Canine Periodontal Disease Signs and Symptoms
The signs of periodontal disease may vary based on the severity of the disease. They may also vary from dog to dog. The first thing most people will notice is halitosis. Contrary to what many people believe, dogs are not supposed to have bad breath. This is a sign of dental disease that should be addressed right away. Dogs with advanced periodontal disease tend to have especially foul breath.
As periodontal disease progresses, so does oral pain. Dogs may become reluctant or unable to chew food and treats. They may also lose interest in chew toys. Often, dogs will begin to salivate more than usual. The saliva may even be blood-tinged. Upon closer inspection of the teeth, you or your vet will notice gingivitis (inflammation/reddening of the gums) at the very least. As periodontal disease advances, teeth will eventually become loose.
Periodontal disease is diagnosed and numbered from one to four (based on severity):
- Grade I: the earliest form of the disease, when only gingivitis is present.
- Grade II, III and IV: Periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around teeth) is present and gets more severe in higher grades.
- Grade IV: The most advanced stage; loss of more than half of the tooth's supportive structures is noted.
Risks of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
In the mouth, periodontal disease causes damage to gum tissue and bone around the teeth, leading to loss of these tissues. In addition, periodontal disease can also cause the following problems to occur in the mouth:
- Development of a hole (fistula) from the oral cavity into the nasal passages causing nasal discharge
- Weakening of the jaw bone that can lead to fractures
- Bone infection
However, it is important to understand that periodontal disease can lead to other major health problems throughout the body, including the following:
- Heart Disease
- Kidney Dz
- Liver Disease
- Various infections
Treatment of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Tartar build-up and gingivitis start in the early stages of dental disease. These can be cured with a professional dental cleaning, home care and a little healing time. However, there is no cure for periodontal disease. Once dental disease progresses to periodontal disease, the bone surrounding the teeth begins to destruct. This bone loss cannot be undone. Fortunately, it can be treated to slow the progression of the periodontal disease.
No matter the grade of periodontal disease, the first and most important treatment step is a professional dental cleaning. This procedure must be done under general anesthesia. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians can get a better look at the teeth and accurately assess the stage of the disease. Many vet offices are now performing digital dental x-rays, which are extremely valuable when it comes to making an accurate diagnosis and treating accordingly.
A thorough cleaning of the teeth can be done, including the subgingival surfaces of the teeth (under the gum). Be wary of places offering "anesthesia-free dentistry." A thorough dental cleaning and periodontal treatment cannot be done if the pet is awake, no matter how well-behaved that pet may be.
Once your dog's teeth are clean, your job begins. Home dental care is essential for all dogs but is even more important for dogs with existing periodontal disease. The "gold standard" is daily brushing with an enzymatic toothpaste made especially for pets. However, this may not be a realistic option for you. As an alternative to daily brushing, you can try simply applying toothpaste to the dog's teeth daily. If daily care is still not an option, there are various topical gels that can be applied periodically (usually once a week). In addition, the are food and water additives on the market that change the chemistry of the dog's mouth, slowing the buildup of plaque and tartar.
Be aware that not all dog dental products are created equal! Talk to your vet about products that have been proven effective and safe. You can also check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council for a list of approved products. The VOHC is similar to the American Dental Association, but for pets.
The best time to start a dental home care routine for your dog is the minute you bring him into your life. This will get your dog used to the process so it's not a struggle. It will also help prevent periodontal disease from starting in the first place. As with most diseases, prevention is key.