Gum disease, also referred to as periodontal disease, is very common and affects many animals, but is especially prevalent in dogs. Periodontal disease erodes the gums and bones that hold the teeth in place. When your dog’s gums become diseased, their teeth soon become compromised, resulting in tooth loss, pain and discomfort, and problems eating. Gum disease begins when food particles that accumulate at the gum line form plaque. Plaque then combines with minerals present in saliva and forms tartar, which is a cement-like, yellow substance stuck to your dog's teeth along the gum line. If tartar is not removed it causes inflammation as it begins to irritate gums and hold bacteria at the gum tissues. Gums become red and inflamed and your dog may exhibit foul breath odor. Pockets form in the tartar that trap more bacteria, which release toxins and damage gum and bone tissues. Teeth are then prone to abscesses or becoming loose and falling out.
Symptoms of gingivitis or gum disease include:
Pus or discharge around the tooth base
Red, inflamed, bleeding gums
Your dog may try to scratch at or rub their mouth to address pain
Teeth fall out
Dog experiences difficulty eating, stomach upset, and may lose appetite or avoid food
Drooling and salivating
If infection becomes systemic, your dog may become lethargic and experience fever
Gum disease is one of the most prevalent conditions treated in dogs and results in millions of dollars spent by pet owners each year to correct dental problems caused by it. The cost of preventative steps that can be taken is substantially lower, but many owners gamble that their pet will not be affected. The fact is, that the majority of dogs that are not provided with preventative care will develop gum disease.
Causes and Prevention of Gum Disease in Dogs
Gum disease develops when food accumulating at the gum line develops into plaque and then forms tartar, which traps bacteria and causes erosion of the gum. Often referred to as periodontal disease, compromise of the gum also causes compromise the underlying bone and other structures that hold teeth in place, so gum disease eventually affects the health of your dog's teeth.
There are different stages of gum disease. In the 1st stage, there is some redness and inflammation of the gums referred to as gingivitis. In the 2nd stage, pockets form between the gum and the tooth that can trap bacteria, and in the 3rd stage deep pockets form and bone begins to erode. By stage 4, gum recession is extensive and up to 50% bone loss has occurred. Unfortunately, this process is irreversible, so stopping it before it starts is critical.
To prevent periodontal disease, regular professional dental care and cleaning by pet owners daily is required. Pet owners are encouraged to clean their dog's teeth daily with a toothbrush. Some products that can aid in daily cleanings are available, formulated especially for dogs. You should regularly see your veterinarian to have your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned and tartar removed, much as you visit the dentist regularly for the same purpose. Daily cleaning by pet owners, accompanied by regular professional examinations and cleaning are the most important way to prevent gum and periodontal disease from developing.
There are also several different factors can cause periodontal disease to progress more rapidly.
Diet can be a factor. A healthy diet with ingredients appropriate for your dog, high in protein and low carbohydrates, will contribute to overall health and prevent gum disease. Feeding hard kibble, if it is high quality with high protein ingredients, may help reduce plaque and tartar build up due to the friction of the dry food in the mouth. Many breeders and veterinarians recommend a raw meat diet, as the action of chewing and tearing raw meat may also loosen food particles at the gum line. Providing chew bones is another way of providing friction at the gum site to loosen food particles. Special dental chew bones are available commercially.
The breed or genetics of your dog may also predispose them to development of gum disease. Research and select a puppy from a reputable breeder who works hard to minimize health problems, including periodontal disease in their animals. Be aware of the predisposition of your dog's breed to periodontal disease. If you have a high-risk breed, brushing their teeth at least once a day and preferably twice a day is recommended.
Importance of Prevention
Because periodontal disease is one of the leading causes of veterinary expense dog owners incur, preventing it is well worth the effort. Routine teeth brushing, regular professional care, and providing a diet that will minimize gum disease are simple preventative steps that can be taken. Remember that once gum disease begins, it is irreversible and will lead to pain, discomfort, and dental problems requiring veterinary intervention for your dog. It is also possible that, like in humans, periodontal disease is associated with heart disease. This makes preventing it from occurring even more important to your dog's overall health and longevity.
Not Just a Surface Problem
Gum disease is not just unsightly and smelly, making your dog unpleasant to be around, it is a genuine health concern. Your dog depends on his teeth for masticating his food, and ensuring that they have a good healthy base by keeping his gums and underlying bone healthy is vital if your dog is to have a long and happy life, chewing his favorite bones and toys!
Not only is it important to maintain healthy gums to keep your dog's teeth healthy and functional so he can eat properly, but periodontal disease can cause systemic infections and heart problems if allowed to progress. Fortunately, gum disease is preventable. Daily teeth brushing by pet owners coupled with professional examinations and cleaning are the most important steps pet owners can take to prevent gum disease in their dogs. Feeding a high quality diet that prevents plaque and tartar build up at the gum line and promoting your dog's overall health can also help mitigate the risk of gum disease progressing. All dogs are prone to gum disease, but some breeds seem to be more susceptible, so for them regular dental care and cleaning is especially important and may need to be stepped up to keep their gums healthy well into old age.