February is National Pet Dental Health Month, which is a great time to talk about gum disease in dogs. Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a significant health issue for dogs. Most dogs have some degree of gum disease by the time they are 3 years old. Although there are generally no initial symptoms, gum disease in dogs can destroy the teeth, gums and jaw over time, and can be very painful. The good news is that it can be prevented in many cases, and it can be treated if caught early. 

What is gum disease in dogs?

Canine periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the gums due to a buildup of plaque on the teeth from the food they eat. It causes the immune system to respond with swelling and inflammation in an attempt to protect the body from the harmful bacteria. As with humans, gum disease starts out mild (gingivitis) and progresses to advanced stages if left untreated (periodontitis). 

Signs of Gum Disease 

Early signs are subtle and most pet parents miss them, which is why it is crucial to bring your dog in for regular check ups. These include:

  • Bad breath
  • Tartar buildup on the teeth

Some advanced signs you might notice, include:

  • Bleeding, red, or swollen gums
  • Blood in the saliva
  • Loose teeth
  • Lumps in the mouth 
  • Receding gums
  • Sneezing or runny nose 
  • Difficulty chewing or chewing on one side of the mouth

Complications of Gum Disease

If your dog develops gum disease and it goes untreated, it can lead to serious health complications including:

  • Gum loss
  • Tooth loss
  • Loss of bone surrounding the teeth
  • Jaw fracture
  • Oronasal fistula (an opening between the mouth and the nasal cavity)
  • Chronic nasal infections 
  • Systemic issues, such as heart, liver, or kidney disease

Treating Gum Disease in Dogs

Periodontal disease in dogs is treated exactly as gum disease is treated in humans—by removing the plaque and tartar from the teeth through a professional dental cleaning. The safest way to clean both above and below the gumline is to put your dog under anesthesia. This is less stressful for your dog and it enables your vet to thoroughly examine the mouth and take X-rays. If there is an active infection in your dog’s mouth, your vet may prescribe antibiotics and pain medication. 

For advanced gum disease, your dog may need more extensive surgical treatment and even tooth extraction. 

Preventing Gum Disease in Dogs

As we stated earlier, gum disease can be prevented, which will save you and your dog a lot of stress. Once gum disease reaches advanced stages, it cannot be reversed. So here are some things you can do to prevent gum disease in your dog:

  • Brush his teeth. Dogs need to have their teeth brushed for all the same reasons humans do. Ideally, like humans, dogs should have their teeth brushed twice a day. We know that this is unrealistic for many dogs and their owners, so brushing at least 3 times a week is better than not brushing at all. However, with proper training, you can make brushing less stressful and even enjoyable for your dog.
  • Get regular dental checkups and cleanings. Oral exams with dental X-rays done under general anesthesia are important for preventing tooth decay and gum disease. The general recommendation is once a year, however, this might vary depending on breed and health issues in your dog. 
  • Offer safe toys. Chewing on safe toys can help remove tartar and plaque from your dog’s teeth. Just make sure not to offer him hard toys that could crack his teeth, or rawhide, which is upsetting to the GI system. 
  • Choose dental health food and treats. There are specially formulated foods and dog treats that help reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth. Talk to your veterinarian about this at your next visit before changing your dog’s diet. 

Gum Disease Treatment for Dogs in Gilbert

Just as you maintain your own dental health, you need to stay on top of your pet’s dental health too. Oral disease can also be an unseen source of pain in many pets and you are your dog’s best advocate. If it’s been a while since his last dental checkup, call Anasazi Animal Clinic today to set up an appointment. We want to partner with you to ensure your dog lives a long, happy life. 

Image used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/28/2021) by angel1238812 from Pixabay