Dental Diseases in Dogs

Many folks are of the opinion that dogs always have smelly mouths. This is not necessarily true, but it does point to the epidemic of potentially dangerous canine dental diseases, most especially periodontal disease. Left unchecked, dental diseases can lead to kidney failure or heart disease. It’s very important that you work with your veterinarian to ensure your pet has a clean, disease-free mouth.

Dog Dental Care

Dental care for your dog takes a certain commitment, but it is far from onerous and is so important to your pet’s health. A veterinary study found that periodontal disease (often called gum disease) is one of the top 10 diagnoses for dog, affecting 91 percent of dogs over three years old. Vet Inspecting Dog's TeethYou can prevent this from happening to your dog by following your vet’s instructions for brushing its teeth daily with a prescribed toothpaste, having semi-annual dental exams and scheduling annual or semi-annual cleanings. You can check your pet’s mouth daily by flipping its lip to inspect for bad breath and tartar. You can also feed your dog dental treats prescribed by your vet. These treats often contain enzymes to help remove tartar and plaque, but they do not replace the need for brushing. Chew toys are also useful, as is veterinarian recommended dog food designed to prevent dental disease.

Symptoms of Dental Disease

There are several symptoms of canine dental disease, including:

  • Bad breath
  • Tartar buildup
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Yellow or brown teeth
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Difficulty chewing its food

If you don’t take care of your dog’s mouth, the invisible plaque buildup on teeth will harden into visible mineral deposits called tartar that can cause inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), bad breath, periodontal disease and tooth loss.

Periodontal Disease

Bacteria from periodontal disease can enter your dog’s bloodstream, causing damage to internal organs. Studies show that small dogs are the most prone to developing periodontal disease, even though the disease is entirely preventable. Lack of awareness, no doubt contributes to the prevalence of periodontal disease, which often goes untreated.

Periodontal disease develops when plaque and tartar spreads underneath your dog’s gum line. Sub-gingival plaque damages the tissues that support the teeth, leading eventually to tooth-loss. The damage is caused by bacteria that secrete destructive toxins that wear down the gums, bone and ligaments. These bacteria trigger your dog’s immune system, which dispatches white blood cells to the infection site, causing inflammation. The white blood cells clustered at the space, or pocket, between the gum or bone and the tooth also release chemicals that can damage the tooth’s supporting structures.

Your vet can evaluate the extent of periodontal disease in your dog’s mouth, but may have to anesthetize you pet to perform the examination.

Canine Dental Procedure

The dog’s teeth and gums are probed to identify gaps exceeding two millimeters between the gum and tooth. In advanced cases, a hole, or fistula, can develop between the oral cavity and the nasal passages, leading to nasal discharge, weakening and fracture of the jaw bone, and bone infection. Generalized infection can produce diseases of the heart, liver and kidney. In addition, periodontal disease has been identified as a risk factor for diabetes.


The treatment of canine dental diseases depends on how far they have progressed. A professional dental cleaning can remove tartar and plaque by scaling and polishing the teeth. X-rays may be needed to check teeth for decay and damage because up to 60 percent of symptoms hide underneath the gum line. The radiographs will show a density loss in teeth and problems with the root socket margin.

Cleaning and polishing the teeth can usually handle early cases of periodontal disease if accompanied by daily brushing. However, as the disease progresses, your vet will need to deep-clean the pockets between the gums and teeth and may apply an antibiotic gel to shrink the pockets and rejuvenate the tissue.

Badly damaged teeth can have severe bone loss and will probably need to be extracted. Other treatments include guided tissue regeneration, periodontal splinting and bone replacement procedures.

If your dog develops periodontal disease, you may need to schedule more frequent cleanings, which is why it’s so important to prevent the disease in the first place. As with humans, regular brushing and cleaning can prevent periodontal disease from afflicting your dog. Your vet will be happy to show you what you need to do and how to do it, and then it’s up to you to protect the health of your cherished pet on a daily basis.