Dental Plaque Accumulation in Dogs

Dental Plaque Accumulation in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Dental Plaque Accumulation?

Dental plaque, the gummy substance noted above, is a natural outcome of food consumption in the canine species as well as in human species.  It’s attachment to the oral tissues of your pet, though a natural process, is not healthy for your pet’s oral tissues (or your’s for that matter).  It can lead to tartar development which will lead to gum disease with eventual bone and tooth loss as well as a variety of systemic issues if not properly mitigated on a regular basis.

Dental plaque is substance that forms on the teeth within a few hours after a meal. This gummy substance begins its transformation to tartar within 24 hours after a meal.

Symptoms of Dental Plaque Accumulation in Dogs

The symptoms of dental plaque accumulation in dogs are not as noticeable as they are in people.  It is likely that evidence of gum disease will be noted by your veterinary professional during one of his examinations. Here are some things that he may note in his examination, some of which you might also notice, especially if you flip the lips and check your pet’s mouth:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty or pain with chewing
  • Red and swollen gums
  • Pus or mucous along the gum line
  • Pus in nasal discharge
  • Unilateral swelling under one eye
  • Lethargy


Dental plaque and the gum inflammation have various stages of development into which it can be categorized:

  • Stage 1 Gingivitis only - No attachment loss to surrounding teeth - alveolar margins (the part of the gum from which the teeth arise) appear normal
  • Stage 2 Early periodontitis - < 25% attachment loss as measured by clinical probing or x-rays
  • Stage 3 Moderate periodontitis - 25% to 50% attachment loss as measured by clinical probing or x-rays
  • Stage 4 Advanced periodontitis - > 50% attachment loss as measured by clinical probing or x-rays

Causes of Dental Plaque Accumulation in Dogs

Dental plaque is a direct result of the eating and consumption of food and drink items.  This is a naturally occurring substance that causes deterioration of the oral tissues over time if not removed appropriately.  Here’s how it develops:

  • Your pet consumes a meal and the chewing process leaves behind the gummy substance known as dental plaque
  • This plaque changes from a gummy texture to a harder consistency within just a few hours, usually hardening has begun within 24 hours of consumption of the meal
  • In its early stages, the plaque is soft and is made up of mineral salts, organic matter, bacteria, serum and food particles, adhering to the teeth as it gets harder and harder
  • Tartar forms as the dental plaque hardens, forming both above and below the gum line. This will appear as a yellow or brownish discoloration on the teeth, usually near the gum line
  • It is at this point in development that, should you notice the discoloration on the teeth of your pet (and you will likely have noticed the bad breath by this time also), you should seek veterinary intervention to avoid the painful situation which will be experienced by your pet later
  • As the tartar builds up, it causes inflammation and infection in the gums; this is the early stage referred to as gingivitis
  • As the inflammation continues to accumulate, further destruction occurs to those precious oral tissues, eventually leading to gum recession and bone loss with eventual tooth loss
  • The inflammation goes very deep into the tissues, gets into the bloodstream where it is transported throughout your pet’s body to each and every tissue type and organ in its path

Diagnosis of Dental Plaque Accumulation in Dogs

As noted previously, discovery of gum disease most generally occurs during a regular examination by your veterinary professional.  Since most pet parents don’t examine the mouths of their family pet, when discovered, dental plaque is usually accumulated to the point at which the tartar has caused gum disease in one stage or another.  Your veterinary professional will need a complete history from you which includes any information that you have noticed about your dog’s eating patterns and habits, appetite changes, behavior and energy level changes and if you have noticed any bad breath or any of the symptoms noted above.  He will need to know the severity and duration of any of those noted symptoms.  

Your veterinary professional will do a physical examination which will include a dental evaluation if he sees gum disease in your beloved family pet.  He may order blood testing and perhaps tissue samples.  If he is trained to treat periodontitis or gum disease, he will do so.  If he is not trained in this area of veterinary medicine, he will likely need to refer to you a veterinary professional who specializes in veterinary dental care.

Treatment of Dental Plaque Accumulation in Dogs

Treatment of dental plaque accumulation in dogs will be dependent upon the stage to which the gum disease has progressed.  Your vet’s treatment plan could include:

  • Removal of the dental plaque and/or tartar from the tooth surfaces is vital to the treatment plan; this can reverse gingivitis and will set the stage for the more advanced treatments required for periodontal disease
  • For periodontal disease, the cleaning and scaling of the tartar from the teeth will be deeper and more involved, getting to the root of the teeth; anesthesia will be required
  • Gingival curettage is a procedure which will cut away the diseased tissue in the gum pocket next to the teeth; this will remove infected tissue to allow healing for the remaining tissue and will require anesthesia of your pet to complete
  • Various ways and means of application of antibiotic medications will follow to clear up the infection in the gums
  • Any loose teeth discovered in the examination and treatment process will need to be extracted
  • Significant changes in the oral hygiene measures at home which are to be utilized for your pet will be stressed
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Recovery of Dental Plaque Accumulation in Dogs

The prognosis of treatments for dental plaque accumulation and the accumulation of tartar in dogs is generally good.  In the event that your canine family member has to have teeth extracted due to the advanced stage of periodontal disease, be encouraged, your doggy family member can still function quite well without teeth, though you should expect some changes in his dietary regimen in this area.  You should also expect that, if you’re not already performing daily oral hygiene tasks with your pet, you will likely need to begin a regimen for home care which will be explained by your veterinary professional.  

Gum and periodontal disease not only affects the oral health of your beloved pet, but the infection which is being transported through the bloodstream to all parts of his body can cause other systemic problems, some of which could be life-threatening over time.  If is for this reason that all suggestions for the prevention of dental plaque accumulation should be “given a shot” because the life of your doggy family member could depend on it down the road.  Of course, administration of copious amounts of the three A’s -- affirmation, affection and attention -- will also be part of the treatment plan.

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