Canine periodontal disease is a type of inflammation of the gum and deeper supporting structures of the teeth that can lead to bone loss, tissue damage and tooth loss.
The term gum disease is usually used to describe periodontal disease in dogs, but can also refer to gingivitis. Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gum caused by dental plaque. Whilst gingivitis is completely treatable and reversible, if left unchecked, it can progress to periodontal disease (periodontitis).
Gum disease is extremely common in both dogs and cats. Gingivitis or mild periodontal disease is present in up to 84% of dogs aged 3 or over. 1
Gum disease can cause some major dental problems, including tooth loss, but it can also lead to other health problems as a result of bacteria entering the blood stream.
Plaque Build up Leads to Gum Disease
Nearly all instances of gum disease begin as a result of plaque build up. Unfortunately, the mouth is a great environment for bacteria to grow due to the leftover bits of food, warmth and moisture. As bacteria grow they leave behind a thin film on the teeth to allow them to stick on the tooth surface, this biofilm is known as plaque.
Plaque is relatively easy to remove with correct dental care but can begin to harden after 48-72 hours, this is known as dental calculus. See our list of dental care products for dogs.
Minerals in saliva help calculus to form, the calculus consists of ‘fossilised’ bacteria that is extremely tough and adheres to the tooth surface. It also makes an efficient scaffold for further bacterial growth and plaque development.
As plaque continues to develop it causes gingivitis (the inflammation of the gums). The inflammation is caused by the body’s response to the dental bacteria.
As gingivitis progresses, it can lead to the destruction of gum tissue and the development of periodontal disease, progression of the disease is supported by toxins secreted by the dental bacteria.
Periodontal disease is not reversible and the damage it causes to the bone/tissue/gum structure can lead to tooth loss.
Causes of Periodontal Disease
As mentioned above the primary cause of periodontal disease is dental plaque. Dental plaque build up leads to the development of gingivitis, which allows bacteria to reach beneath the gum line. Once this occurs, inflammation of deeper connective tissues holding the tooth in place develops (periodontitis).
Certain breeds may be more likely to develop periodontal disease. In particular, toy breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers or Toy Poodles are more likely to develop periodontal disease due to the crowding of teeth in the mouth.
Environmental factors such as the type of food and amount of oral care provided will influence how much plaque develops on your dog’s teeth and whether this develops in to gingivitis/periodontitis.
Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
The most obvious symptom of gum disease is the infamous ‘doggy breath’. If your dog has bad breath, this is the first sign that you need to increase the amount of oral care you are providing. Simple prevention tips, such as the ones listed below, can easily prevent the development of periodontal disease. Other symptoms include:
- Bad breath (‘dog breath’ )
- Reluctance to play with chew toys
- Difficulty chewing and refusal to eat dry food
- Loss of appetite
- Oral pain and sensitivity
- Excessive saliva production – drooling
- Red, inflamed gums
- Yellow/Brown/Black staining of the teeth and gum line
- Bleeding gums or blood in saliva
Image Credit – Nottingham Vet School
Development of Periodontal Disease
The development of periodontal disease is divided in to 5 stages 2 and is defined on a per tooth basis. Each stage is based on the relative attachment loss – attachment loss is the amount of connective tissue holding the tooth in place that has been lost.
- Stage 0: Healthy gums – No sign of gum disease. Gum is a healthy pink colour and teeth are relatively free of staining.
- Stage 1: Gingivitis – Plaque deposits on teeth caused by a build up of bacteria are present. This is easily reversed by polishing/scaling/homecare.
- Stage 2: Minor attachment loss (<25%) – Plaque begins to extend down to the root of the tooth. Inflammation causes supporting tissue and bone to recede.
- Stage 3: Moderate attachment loss (25-50%) – Plaque extends further and reduction of supporting tissue and bone is increased.
- Stage 4: Severe attachment loss (over 50%) - Extensive plaque, bone loss and severe inflammation make the loss of the tooth likely.
Preventing Periodontal Disease
Prevention is key with periodontal disease. Once it allowed to develop, the condition is not reversible. Something as simple as providing a dental chew for your dog has been shown to significantly improve gum health. 3 4
Other efficient ways of preventing periodontal disease include:
- Brushing their teeth – once daily if possible, but even once a week or once a month can help
- Avoiding processed, canned food or foods rich in sweeteners
- Feeding dry food or specially prepared dental foods
- Dental treats
- Dog mouthwash that can be added to their drinking water to prevent plaque build up
- Or other special preparations such as this dental spray or this popular plaque remover
See here for a complete list of dental care products for dogs.
Treating Periodontal Disease
The bone loss and tissue damage caused by periodontal disease is not reversible, as such it isn’t really possible to cure periodontal disease. The progress of the disease can be slowed/stopped however, with professional veterinary care.
Dental x-rays are often used to show the extent of the disease. This is followed up with a thorough cleaning of the teeth and below the gum line, performed under anaesthesia.
Treatment must be followed up with good dental care at home to prevent the redevelopment of periodontal disease.