Dogs and Periodontal Disease

My Dog and Periodontal Disease

Late one evening about 4 years ago, a little white dog ran into our garage as my husband was getting out of his car. It was nearly dark so we put him in the car and drove up and down the street asking anyone who was outside if they knew who he was. He didn’t have a dogs periodontal diseasecollar on and no one seemed to know where he belonged so we brought him into the house.

That week I called the Humane Society to see if anyone had called in about a missing dog. I called vet’s offices. I made posters and put them up around my neighborhood. No luck.

It looked like he was going to be “our” dog. I took him in to the veterinarian’s office and found out that he had cataracts, he had heart disease and he had periodontal disease. Poor baby. He was not in very good shape.

He had his teeth cleaned and that was so sad as when I picked him up he was missing 3 of them. “They were too loose to be saved,” the vet told me.

He was put on antibiotics and we carried him around and babied him because of his bad heart. Eventually he started feeling better and today he is very healthy and active.

The Importance of Pet Dental Hygiene

I never realized how dangerous it was for dogs (or people) to get periodontal disease until we found this dog. It has made me want to be an advocate for better oral hygiene after seeing the damage periodontal disease can cause.

Did you know that oral disease is the most common health problem treated in small animal health clinics? Nearly eighty percent of dogs and cats show oral disease by age 3. Isn’t that amazing?

The build-up of bacteria in your pet’s mouth not only causes bad breath, but that same bacteria is also the cause of oral disease and diseases in other organs like the heart, liver and kidneys.

Just like humans, pet’s teeth are prone to plaque build-up, and when allowed to combine with saliva and residual food between the tooth and gum, plaque turns to tartar. If plaque and tartar are not removed routinely by your Veterinarian, they may cause periodontal disease.

Dental plaque is a sticky substance that covers the teeth. It consists of bacteria, saliva, food particles and epithelial cells. Plaque builds up on the tooth surface and gum line every day. Left undisturbed the plaque can mineralize, or harden, in less than 2 days, forming calculus or tartar.

Dental tartar is a film that covers teeth consisting of calcium phosphate and carbonate, food particles and other organic matter. The tartar will stick to the tooth surface forming a scaffold for more plaque accumulation. The continued build-up of tartar both above and below the gum line can eventually produce an environment that is a haven for certain types of bacteria. This can lead to periodontal disease.

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums most commonly caused by the accumulation of food particles in the crevices between the gums and teeth. The main symptom is bleeding, although you may also notice redness, pain and difficulty in chewing. If gingivitis is not treated, it may lead to periodontitis.

Periodontal disease is a very common infectious disease caused by bacteria that make up plaque. This results in inflammation of the structures that support teeth, the gum tissue, periodontal ligament, alveolus (small cavity) and cementum (bonelike connective tissue covering the root of a tooth and assisting in tooth support). Symptoms of periodontal disease include bad breath and red or inflamed gums. There are other signs of dental disease in your pet that may be more subtle.


Pets may preferentially choose softer foods; play with chew toys less and decline crunchy treats. You may also notice your pet chewing more on the sides of his mouth. He may chew less in general and this sometimes causes the pet to vomit, seen as undigested or poorly chewed food. Increased salivation, pawing at or rubbing the face can be another indication of oral pain.

Preventing Oral Disease

Prevention is easy as daily brushing that will remove the plaque, prevent tartar and eventual periodontal disease. Do not use human toothpaste or baking soda as they can make your pet sick.

It takes less than 36 hours for this plaque to become mineralized and harden into “tartar” (calculus) that cannot be removed with a brush. Because of this progression, brushing should be done daily, with a brush to remove the plaque from under the gum line.

A dental “prophy” or prophylaxis, is a cleaning and polishing of a pet’s teeth. It is important to realize that dental disease does not reach a particular level and remain there. Dental disease continuously progresses.

As dental disease progresses, the treatment becomes more involved, meaning longer and more elaborate (and more costly) dental procedures. This means that sooner is better than later when it comes to addressing your pet’s dental disease with an appropriate treatment.

Even with the best tooth brushing, some pets may still need an occasional professional cleaning, just like humans. By brushing your pet’s teeth daily and curtailing the amount of periodontal disease, you may reduce the frequency and involvement of dental cleanings and provide your pet with a healthier, sweeter smile.