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Pet dental disease, also called periodontal disease, is a common clinical condition seen in almost 80% of dogs as soon as they attain the age of three.

It starts when bacteria in the mouth forms a sticky substance on the surface of the teeth called plaque. Unless you brush your dog's teeth, the plaque stays on the teeth, and the minerals in the saliva calcify into thick tartar called calculus.

The plaque gets accumulated under the gum line and starts causing inflammation which is known as gingivitis. Gingivitis is the initial and reversible form of periodontal disease.

  1. Causes of dental disease in dogs
  2. Symptoms of dental disease in dogs
  3. Diagnosis of dental disease in dogs
  4. Treatment of dental disease in dogs
  5. Prevention of dental disease in dogs

Periodontal disease can be caused by a variety of factors. In dogs, the most common causes are infection created by Streptococcus and Actinomyces bacteria.

Symptoms of dental diseases can be seen easily by the vet as well as the owner:

  • Bleeding or red gums 
  • Signs of inflammation in the mouth (redness, pain and heat)
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bloody or ropey saliva
  • Loose teeth which could start falling out in severe cases
  • Dog finds it difficult to pick up food leading to loss of appetite
  • Signs of blood in the water bowl or on chew toys
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Bumps or lumps in the mouth which could bleed on touching
  • Chewing on the less painful side of the mouth
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge (advanced gum disease in the upper teeth can destroy the bone between the nasal and oral cavity)
  • Irritability

Periodontal disease in dogs can be diagnosed by the staging of the disease, which is divided into four stages depending upon the severity:

Stage I: This is an early stage and is medically known as gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gums in response to the presence of plaque and tartar. The gums are inflamed but there is no evidence of support loss. It can be reversed easily with proper treatment such as prophylaxis which involves plaque and calculus removal along with daily oral care at home.

Stage II: This stage is also known as early periodontitis, where the tooth begins to lose support and some bone loss could be seen on a dental radiograph (X-ray). In this stage, there is visible plaque, tartar and inflammation of gums along with bad breath. 

Treatment involves the removal of plaque and calculus, and the additional therapy of root planing to thoroughly clean the root surfaces. Along with daily cleaning, visiting the vet every 4-6 months will help monitor your dog’s condition.

Stage III: This stage is known as moderate periodontitis or established periodontitis where there is about 25-50 percent destruction of the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone loss (the bridges that contain tooth sockets) visible on oral radiographs (X-rays). 

Clinically, the gums will be swollen and bleed easily. Your dog may present with bad breath and infected teeth at this stage.

Treatment would require more aggressive therapy, with extensive root planing and stringent plaque prevention to save the teeth. Dogs would require re-evaluation in every two weeks for the next 3-6 months. 

Stage IV: At this stage, periodontal disease gets extreme where the bone loss of 50 percent or more is visible on oral radiographs. The dog may show signs of severe pain and multiple loose teeth. Bacteria of the mouth are so toxic that they could also enter the bloodstream of your dog, leading to bacteremia which could cause many systemic infections and damage to internal organs.

Usually, extraction is the treatment of choice for loose teeth along with deep cleaning of the remaining teeth. Appointments at the vet have to be scheduled every two weeks for the next six months to make sure that bacteria doesn’t spread to the body.

Various methods of treatment can be employed to treat dental disease in dogs on a case-by-case basis:

  • The treatment of your dog depends on the severity of the disease. Your vet may determine the extent of the condition by looking at the clinical symptoms and by taking dental radiographs (X-rays). 
  • Usually, for Stage I and II of periodontal disease, thorough cleaning of teeth both above and within the margins of the gums is done to remove plaque. Cleaning is done using an ultrasonic scaler which can remove both plaque and calculus.
  • For Stages III and IV, extensive treatment is needed which may include root planing and subgingival curettage, procedures that remove diseased tissue present around the surface of the root and deep within the gums.
  • Gingivectomy could be done in the cases of extreme gum swelling as this procedure involves the removal of diseased swollen gums.
  • Usually in Stage IV, dogs may have to undergo extraction of loose or dying infected teeth.
  • Your vet may prescribe pain medication and a soft food diet for three to four weeks after any surgery.

Maintaining good oral hygiene is of prime importance with a dog in your home in order to avoid serious complications that could arise out of dental disease:

  • To prevent gum diseases, you should brush your dog’s teeth daily to help reduce the formation of plaque, a sticky film that contains bacteria with toothpaste formulated for dogs.
  • Rather than giving bones or sticks which can damage the teeth and mouth, you can give your dog hard toys and rawhide chews.
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