Oral Disease in Dogs

Oral Disease in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Oral Disease?

Oral disease creeps up on your dog; only when it is firmly entrenched does the condition become noticeable. If left untreated, it can go on to cause other bodily complications and conditions such as disease of the kidneys, heart, liver and lungs. It is vital to do a regular check of your dog’s mouth to ensure there are no broken teeth, tooth root abscesses, jaw fractures, or teeth cavities (caused by high sugar diets).

Painful mouth conditions can make your dog’s life one of misery, so for a happy dog, regularly check your pet’s teeth and mouth conditions.

Oral disease is the number one pet medical problem, with a staggering 70 percent of pets having some type of periodontal disease by age two.

Symptoms of Oral Disease in Dogs

While the symptoms depend on the oral condition, some typical symptoms are listed below to guide you. 

  • Sneezing and discharge from the nostrils can indicate advanced gum disease 
  • Tenderness and pulling away when you touch one part of the mouth or jaw 
  • Bad breath 
  • Rubbing of the mouth by the paw or on the floor
  • Yellow or brown tartar coating his teeth 
  • Eating on one side of the mouth 
  • Bleeding or inflamed gums 
  • Loose, wobbly teeth
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty with eating food 
  • Saliva tinted with blood 


  • Studies have linked periodontal disease to diseases of the kidneys, liver, heart and lung 
  • Gingivitis is redness and swelling of the gums which can develop into periodontal disease
  • Periodontal disease progresses through four stages
  • The first stage starts with just one or more teeth having periodontal disease with no separation of the gum and tooth 
  • Stage 2 - Involves approximately 25% attachment loss 
  • Stage 3 - Involves between 25-30 % attachment loss 
  • Stage 4 - Advanced periodontitis involves more than a whopping 50 % attachment loss; in this phase, the gum tissue recedes leaving the roots of the teeth exposed

Causes of Oral Disease in Dogs

  • Oral bacteria that makes its way into the bloodstream through bleeding gums and inflamed tissues
  • Systemic diseases (infections within the mouth) can create other problems such as abscesses in the tooth roots, jaw fractures (the disease weakens the bones, and they become fragile) and oral cancer
  • Older animals have an increased risk of oral diseases, and the risks posed by anesthetics (required to clean or treat their teeth) is a real concern 
  • Diet plays a significant role in oral health; providing food that your dog naturally eats will help to clean the teeth naturally (raw fed foods and knuckle bones act like a toothbrush) 
  • Tough, brittle bones can cause teeth fractures allowing disease, so check with your veterinarian for the types of bones most suited to dogs 
  • Limit processed food, or if your dog must have processed food, get them used to having their teeth brush regularly to keep plaque and disease at bay (use a toothpaste formulated especially for dogs; human toothpaste will cause stomach upsets and health problems such as potential toxicity) 
  • Use healthy dog treats as rewards, not sugary human food as it will stick to the teeth and cause decay

Diagnosis of Oral Disease in Dogs

Consistent bad breath from your dog is a dead giveaway that all is not right in your pet’s mouth. Discolored teeth and red, inflamed gums are common indications that need to be checked out. Schedule your dog for an evaluation with your veterinarian, and he will advise the best ways to keep your dog’s oral health in peak condition. Any treatment will depend on the amount of damage or what is causing the unpleasant breath in your dog. If you have taught your dog how to accept having his mouth handled it will be so much easier to keep his teeth in good health, and it will be easier for the veterinarian to treat the cause. 

Ideally, training your young puppy in this procedure is best, but even an older dog can learn a new trick. The secret is to start slowly and make it short sessions, to begin with, make it fun for your dog. You could start training by relaxing with your dog and dipping your fingers into something tasty like beef bouillon. Then rub our fingers along his front teeth and gum line. As your dog gets used to it, move to the back teeth and gums. Then progress to using a brush. It may take time, but it will be worth it. If the diagnosis of periodontal disease is confirmed, then treatment to reverse and correct the situation will begin.

Your veterinarian will assess the tartar and plaque buildup on your pet’s teeth and will do a visual check of the gums and tongue. If further diagnostics are needed, such as an x-ray, your veterinarian may choose to do so when cleaning the teeth as anesthetic will be in use.

Treatment of Oral Disease in Dogs

For advanced cases of periodontal disease, your veterinarian may have to anesthetize your dog to enable treatment within the mouth area. Your veterinarian may do a blood screen test to detect any systemic organ problems before performing the cleaning. If your dog is an older dog, it would be advisable to get the test done first to ensure there are no hidden risks. X-rays will be taken of the teeth to see if there are any pockets of disease around the tooth root, or if there is any bone deterioration. After that, the plaque will be scraped away from the teeth with the use of a high powered ultrasonic water pick. Much the same as when you go to your dentist. A thorough probe along the gum line will check for any pockets of infection.

If a tooth is broken or the roots are no longer supporting the teeth, your veterinarian may have to remove the tooth. Once done, an injection of antibiotics into the gum cavity and a suture to close it over may be required. Then it is just polishing and a rinse with antibiotic wash and your dog will be awakened and allowed to go home. A course of antibiotic medications will be given to you to administer to your pet which will help clear up any remaining infection.

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Recovery of Oral Disease in Dogs

Once your dog is home, allow him to rest and recover. Follow any directions given to your from the veterinarian to complete the treatment. A follow-up visit to the vet might be required especially if your dog had a tooth removed. Your specialist will advise on the type of food for the first few days, and then you can implement a system of regular tooth brushing for your dog to reduce the sticky film that contains bacteria (plaque).

Be sure to use specially formulated products for dogs to clean the teeth as human toothpaste is too harsh on their digestive system and may contain xylitol, which is highly toxic to canines. Give your dog chew toys; some chew toys are coated with enzymes that help reduce tartar build-up. The chews don’t take the place of the brushing but are a valuable additional tool to prevent oral disease.

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