From shots and vaccinations to deworming, maintaining your dog’s health and happiness involves so many different elements that it’s easy to forget about your pup’s mouth. Too often, owners forget about canine dental health, which can lead to a variety of potential problems.
Periodontal disease is one of the most common health problem found in pets. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, an estimated 80 percent of dogs will have some form of periodontal disease by the age of two. Periodontal disease can pose some serious health problems, interfering with your dog’s general wellbeing and livelihood.
Read on to learn more about gum disease in dogs, its causes, and some simple steps you can take to prevent it.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease affects the areas around your dog’s teeth, including the gums, soft tissues, and even the jaw bones. It is a bacterial infection that exhibits itself in four stages:
- Stage 1: Gums that are mildly inflamed with no separation of gum and tooth
- Stage 2: A 25 percent connective tissue attachment loss
- Stage 3: 25 to 30 percent connective tissue attachment loss
- Stage 4: Known as advanced periodontitis, involves over 50 percent connective tissue attachment loss, receding gums, and exposed roots of the teeth
Gum disease is about five times more prevalent in dogs than humans thanks to the chemical make up of a dog’s mouth and saliva. In addition, dog mouths are more alkaline, allowing for greater plaque formation.
What Causes Periodontal Disease in Dogs?
The main cause of periodontal disease in dogs (and humans) is bacteria. The most common culprits are Actinomycesi and Streptococcus. As soon as your dog eats something, the bacteria break down the food, saliva, and other particles to form a thick film over the teeth. This is known as plaque.
Plaque does a lot of things, like give the bacteria a nice environment to multiply and thrive. It can also mix with the minerals in saliva to form dental calculus, which you might simply know as tartar. Tartar is harder to remove than plaque, firmly affixing itself to your pup’s teeth, but tartar itself is not a sign of periodontal disease.
Most significantly, plaque is considered foreign by your dog’s immune system. When your dog’s body notices foreign invaders, it sends in white blood cells to try to remove or neutralize the plaque bacteria to maintain good health.
The bacteria living within the plaque then signal the white blood cells to release enzymes that break down the gums. This gradual breakdown can eventually work its way into the soft tissues and bones around your dog’s mouth.
Symptoms of Canine Periodontal Disease
Most of the time, pet owners don’t realize that their dogs have periodontal disease until it has progressed to an advanced stage. This is mainly because the first symptoms are hard to spot. Recognizing the signs of periodontal disease is made even harder by the fact that some dogs will instinctively try to hide any pain or discomfort to avoid showing weakness.
If you are actively checking your dog’s teeth and oral health, the first noticeable sign should be inflamed, red, swollen gums. In addition to this, one of the earliest signs of periodontal disease is sudden and exceptional bad breath. Your dog’s teeth may also appear yellow or brown. In more extreme cases, you may notice that your dog has loose teeth or even be missing teeth entirely.
Some other common signs of periodontal disease include:
- Bleeding gums
- Blood in water bowls or on chew toys
- Bloody, ropey saliva
- Making noises or “talking” when your dog yawns or eats
- Not wanting to be touched on the head (also known as head shyness)
- Lumps in your dog’s mouth
- Chewing one side of the mouth
Periodontal disease does not just entail bad teeth and gums. The pain can be so bad that your dog may not be able to eat or chew, leading to a loss of appetite and unhealthy weight loss. Advanced periodontal disease can spread to the bone separating the oral and nasal cavities, completely destroying it. This can lead to frequent sneezing and nasal discharge.
The most common complication coming from periodontal disease is pathologic jaw fracture. When left untreated, periodontal disease weakens a dog’s jaw bones to the point where even the smallest amount of pressure could lead to a complete fracture.
Along with gum and mouth problems, periodontal disease that is left untreated can lead to a higher risk of:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver problems
Risk Factors of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Age is one of the biggest risk factors for periodontal disease in dogs. Older canines have a much higher chance of suffering from dental problems in general. This is not to say that younger pups are immune. Periodontal disease can affect dogs of any age.
Some breeds also have a higher chance than others. Generally, small breeds, toy breeds, and pug-nosed dogs have crowded teeth, which can put them at risk for periodontal disease. Some of these breeds include:
- Miniature Poodles
- Teacup Poodles
- Boston Terriers
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Bichon Frises
Grooming habits can also affect a dog’s chances of periodontal disease. Hair can accumulate around the teeth, while excessive grooming can cause tooth impaction. Both can increase the amount of tartar that builds up.
Diagnosing Canine Periodontal Disease
If you suspect your pup might be suffering from periodontal disease, a vet can conduct a variety of tests to better diagnose the condition. Most often, if simple periodontal probing shows more than two millimeters of space between the tooth and the gums, your dog is considered to have some form of periodontal disease.
From there, your vet can use x-rays to get a better idea of the disease’s severity. X-rays play an important role because 60 percent of the symptoms of periodontal disease are hidden under the gum line. Through x-rays, your vet can determine what stage the disease has progressed to.
In early stages, periodontal disease shows reduced sharpness and density in the root socket margin. As the disease progresses to its advanced stages, x-rays may show reduced bone support around the roots of infected teeth.