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5 Common Dental Problems in Elderly Dogs

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As our canine compadres reach their twilight years, parts of their bodies will begin to deteriorate, including their teeth. Just like with humans, years of wear and tear means your dog may have more dental issues ranging from missing teeth to tartar build-up. 

While you can get your pup some doggy dentures, they're not very common and often expensive. Taking good care of your doggo's dental hygiene through regular cleanings by both yourself and your vet is the best way to ensure your pup has good teeth in their old age. 

That said, many dental problems in elderly dogs develop regardless of whether you've taken great care of their teeth. Read on to find out about 5 common dental problems in elderly dogs.

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#1. Plaque and tartar accumulation

Humans and dogs share many dental health concerns, like plaque and tartar build-up. Plaque is a white substance that builds up around your dog's teeth after a meal. Plaque is formed by bacteria that, if not cleaned off regularly, will multiply and grow.  

After a couple of days, the saliva in a dog's mouth will harden the plaque, turning into hard-to-remove tartar. Plaque and tartar accumulation is something almost every dog will experience at some point in their life and is especially common among senior dogs.

Symptoms

  • Bad breath

  • Bleeding gums

  • Discoloration of teeth

  • Difficulty or discomfort when eating

Causes

The main cause of plaque and tartar build-up is poor dental hygiene. Ideally, you should brush your dog's teeth once a day, although it is challenging to keep up with this schedule. 

You should also take your dog for a cleaning at the vet once a year. Brachycephalic breeds, like Pugs and French Bulldogs, may require a dental cleaning by a vet every 6 months due to shallow roots and overcrowding.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing plaque and tartar accumulation is simple for vets. A quick look at your dog's teeth, and your vet will be able to tell if there's an accumulation of plaque and/or tartar. Your vet will inspect your dog's teeth thoroughly to check for signs of periodontal diseases. In some cases, your vet may request an x-ray to check for any tooth damage.

Treatment

In most cases, your vet will recommend your dog gets booked in for a cleaning, also known as a dental prophy. They will also ask about your dog's dental routine and diet. They may recommend a medicated toothpaste to help get rid of the plaque and tartar quickly. 

Average cost of treatment: $300 – $700


#2. Gingivitis

Gingivitis is considered the earliest sign of periodontal disease. Also known as gum disease, periodontal disease is the most common medical condition among dogs, affecting approximately 80% of dogs over the age of two. 

At this early stage of gum disease, bacteria has entered the gingiva (gum pockets), causing inflammation of the gums, bleeding, and discomfort. Gingivitis is linked to stomatitis, a severe version of gingivitis that involves inflammation of mucous membranes in other parts of the mouth, including the lips and tongue.

Symptoms
  • Redness of the gums
  • Receding gums
  • Bleeding of the gums
  • Plaque accumulation 
  • Bad breath
  • Discomfort
  • Difficulty eating

Causes

As with most common dental problems in dogs, the primary cause of gingivitis is poor dental hygiene. A poor diet can also contribute to the development of gingivitis. Some breeds prone to overcrowded teeth and dental abnormalities, like Dachshunds, Pugs, and Poodles, are more susceptible to developing gingivitis.

Diagnosis

If you notice any symptoms of gingivitis in your dog, take them to the vet as soon as possible. You won't want to wait for your next check-up, as periodontal diseases can progress quickly. Your vet will ask you if you've noticed any symptoms like bleeding gums and bad breath. They may also ask about your dog's diet. 

Your vet will give your dog a simple oral examination to look for redness, bleeding, and receding gums. Your vet may also check for abscesses around the gums as well as lumps on the neck. 

Usually, to properly diagnose the form of gum disease, a vet will need to put your dog under anesthetic and insert a periodontal probe between the gums and teeth. If the dental cavity is deeper than 3 millimeters, the dog has some form of periodontal disease or abnormality.

Treatment

Because gingivitis is the earliest stage of periodontal disease, it's still reversible. If your vet diagnoses your dog with gingivitis, they'll prescribe antibiotics to get rid of the bacterial infection. They may also recommend you book your dog in for a cleaning to remove any stuck-on tartar and plaque. If the gingivitis is severe, they may also order x-rays to check for bone damage brought on by periodontitis. 

Average cost of treatment: $1,000 – $2,000


#3. Periodontitis

Periodontitis is the next stage of gum disease after gingivitis. By this stage, the bacterial infection of your dog's gingiva has become severe, resulting in the weakening of the gums, ending in loss of support around the teeth. While all dogs will likely get some form of gum disease during adulthood, severe periodontitis is most common among older dogs. 

Periodontitis is a serious medication condition that can severely impact your dog's health and quality of life. As well as being detrimental to a dog's dental health, periodontitis can increase the risks of kidney disease and heart disease. For example, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) states that dogs with stage 3 periodontitis are 6 times more likely to develop endocarditis.

Symptoms
  • Bleeding gums
  • Drooling
  • Lost or loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Blood in water bowl or on toys
  • Discomfort

Causes

A lack of dental hygiene is the leading cause of periodontitis in older dogs. A poor diet can also contribute to the development of this condition. Breeds prone to dental abnormalities are at higher risk of developing periodontitis.

Diagnosis

Your vet will start by giving your dog an oral examination while asking some questions about their symptoms, health, and diet. If the vet notices loose teeth and bleeding gums, they will request a periodontal probe under anesthetic. Your vet may also perform an x-ray at this time to check for bone damage.

Treatment

Unfortunately, periodontitis is irreversible as some form of damage to the bones has already happened. The treatment for periodontitis includes an oral examination, x-rays, and potentially several tooth extractions. You may also need to change your dog onto a softer diet while they recover from surgery. Future teeth cleanings and scalings will be required to stop the periodontitis from coming back. 

Average cost of treatment: $2,000 – $3,000

#4. Broken and lost teeth

Broken and lost teeth are common dental problems for older dogs. There are several reasons why a dog's teeth fall out or get damaged. Unlike humans, it's not considered normal for a dog's teeth to fall out in old age. Broken or lost teeth are always caused by another factor rather than aging.

Symptoms

  • Visibly lost or broken teeth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Swelling of the face
  • Discomfort

Causes

As mentioned, old age doesn't cause tooth loss in dogs and is caused by other factors. Periodontitis brought on by poor dental hygiene is one of the leading causes of lost teeth. Trauma or injury is also another common reason, especially if your dog has chipped a tooth. Malformed teeth and teeth which haven't come through correctly are also susceptible to falling out. 

Diagnosis

Your vet will be able to easily identify if your dog has a broken or lost tooth in a standard oral examination without the need for an anesthetic. That said, your vet may need to perform x-rays and a more invasive examination to tell if there's any damage to the jaw or if a piece of tooth has been left behind.

Treatment

The treatment of a lost or broken tooth varies depending on the underlying cause. If your dog has lost a tooth due to periodontal disease, then surgery and antibiotics may be required, depending on the severity. If your dog has a broken tooth due to trauma, surgery may be necessary to remove any left behind pieces of tooth. 

Average cost of treatment: $500 – $3,000

#5. Tooth root abscess

A tooth root abscess is an infection that affects the root of a tooth. A severe bacterial infection usually causes a tooth root abscess, but there are several other potential causes. 

Bacteria enter the exposed root canal, usually due to an opening or chip in a tooth's enamel. The bacteria then infect the pulp cavity, which contains the soft tissue of the tooth. Tooth root abscesses can cause several other dental problems, including pulpitis and apical periodontitis.

Symptoms

  • Bleeding gums
  • Drooling
  • Damaged tooth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Pus near the gum line
  • Inflamed skin near the site of abscess

Causes

There are several causes of tooth root abscesses, including periodontal disease. Another common cause of tooth root abscess in dogs is from biting or chewing on something that causes damage to the mouth. It's also possible for an underlying condition to weaken the immune system and increase the likelihood of tooth root abscesses.

Diagnosis

Your vet will start by giving your dog a dental examination, watching for signs of pus around the gum line, which is a sign of tooth root abscess. A draining tract leading from the oral cavity is also a telltale sign. They may also look for signs of periodontal disease. While your vet may be fairly sure your dog has a root tooth abscess, an x-ray is required to diagnose the issue properly.

Treatment

Once diagnosed, your vet will prescribe your dog some antibiotics and other medication to control the infection and reduce inflammation. Once the infection is under control, there are two ways of treating a tooth root abscess: root canal treatment and extraction.

Your dog may not be eligible for root canal treatment if there is significant damage around the root or if your dog has a severe periodontal disease. Root canal treatment involves draining infected pulp from the tooth and disinfecting the root canal. 

Average cost of treatment: $1,000 – $2,000

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