Gum Disease in Dogs

Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Periodontal disease is an inflammation of some or all of a tooth’s deep supporting structures. Today, it is one of the most common diseases in dogs. If food particles and bacteria are allowed to accumulate along the dog's gumline, it can form plaque, which, when combined with saliva and minerals, will transform into calculus. This causes gum irritation and leads to an inflammatory condition called gingivitis.

Gingivitis, which is evidenced by a reddening of the gums directly bordering the teeth, is considered to be an early stage of periodontal disease. After an extended period, the calculus builds up under the gum and separates it from the teeth. Spaces will form under the teeth, fostering bacterial growth. Once this happens, the dog has irreversible periodontal disease. This usually leads to bone loss, tissue destruction and pus formation in the cavities between the gum and teeth. Periodontal disease affects dogs of all ages, though it is more common in older animals.

Signs & Symptoms of Gum Disease

Periodontal disease generally begins with the inflammation of one tooth, which may progress if not treated during different stages of the condition.

  • A dog with stage 1 periodontal disease in one or more of its teeth, for example, will exhibit gingivitis without any separation of the gum and tooth
  • Stage 2 is characterized by a 25 percent attachment loss
  • Stage 3 involves a 25 to 30 percent attachment loss
  • In stage 4, which is also called advanced periodontitis, there is more than a 50 percent attachment loss

In the most advanced stage of the disease, the gum tissue will usually recede and the roots of the teeth will be exposed.  

Causes of Gum Disease

Periodontal disease can be caused by a variety of factors. In dogs, the most common causes are the Streptococcus and Actinomyces bacteria. Canine toy breeds with crowded teeth, and dogs that groom themselves, carry a higher risk of acquiring the disease. In addition, poor nutrition will also contribute to the onset of the condition.

Diagnosis of Gum Disease

The diagnosis of periodontal disease involves a number of procedures. If periodontal probing reveals more than two millimeters of distance between the gingivitis-affected gum and tooth, a dog is considered to have some form of periodontal abnormality. X-rays are extremely important in diagnosing periodontal disease because up to 60 percent of the symptoms are hidden beneath the gum line. In the disease's early stages, radiographic imaging will reveal loss of density and sharpness of the root socket (alveolar) margin. In more advanced stages, it will reveal loss of bone support around the root of the affected tooth.  

Treatment for Gum Disease

The specific treatment for periodontal disease depends on how advanced the disease is. In the early stages, treatment is focused on controlling plaque and preventing attachment loss. This is achieved by daily brushing with animal safe toothpaste, professional cleansing, polishing, and the prescribed application of fluoride.

In stage 2 or 3, the treatment involves the cleansing of the space between the gums and teeth and the application of antibiotic gel to rejuvenate periodontal tissues and decrease the size of the space.

In the more advanced stages, bone replacement procedures, periodontal splinting, and guided tissue regeneration may become necessary.

Follow-up treatment for periodontal disease consists mostly of good dental care and weekly, quarterly, or half-yearly checks. Prognosis in dogs will depend on how advanced the disease is, but the best way to minimize the adverse affects caused by the disease is to get an early diagnosis, adequate treatment and proper therapy.

Prevention of Gum Disease

The best prevention is to maintain good oral hygiene and to regularly brush and clean the dog's mouth and gums.  

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