How important is the health of your dog’s teeth and gums? Believe it or not it’s extremely important, not only for the daily activities of eating and chewing, but also for your furry friend’s overall health and well-being. Severe dental disease in dogs can be a very serious condition, especially as our canine kids get up in age and reach their senior years.
But it can also be fairly easily avoided. All it takes is Pet Parent awareness of the danger issues and how to prevent and treat them. A little knowledge and effort can go a long way in protecting the health of your pet.
What Is Canine Dental Disease?
Canine dental disease is also called periodontal disease which is a term that your veterinarian may use to describe tooth and gum problems in your pet. Unfortunately, this disease is an all-too-common condition in our canine companions with over 80% of dogs having the early stages of gum disease by age three.
The major cause of periodontal disease is bacterial plaque which continually forms on your dog’s teeth. Plaque is a colorless and sticky film that accumulates on the teeth and gums every time your pet eats a meal. Bacteria mixes with saliva to create the plaque which then coats the outside of the animal’s teeth. If the plaque remains on the teeth, within 5 days it will harden into tartar. A buildup of tartar on the pet’s teeth and gum line is what can lead to severe dental disease in dogs if left untreated.
Dogs are much more susceptible to dental disease than we humans are for two fundamental reasons. Firstly, a dog’s mouth is more alkaline than ours which encourages plaque formation. Secondly, most pets do not get the benefit of a good tooth brushing on a regular basis to fend off the effects of plaque accumulation.
Periodontal disease occurs in 4 stages. Severe dental disease in dogs can be considered at stage 3, although stage 4 is the most detrimental to your pet’s health. But the great news is that pet parent awareness can help treat and prevent this insidious disease from seriously affecting your dog’s health.
The 4 Stages of Canine Dental Disease in a Nutshell
Stage 1 is the earliest stage of canine dental disease. About the only signs that a pet parent may observe at this point is some swelling of the dog’s gums and perhaps a thin red line on the gums next to the teeth. This is due to inflammation in response to bacteria and tartar. The medical term for inflammation of the gums is gingivitis.
Stage 2 is also known as early periodontitis. At this stage you may notice some tartar buildup on your dog’s teeth near the gum line. Tartar is a brown or yellow colored hard deposit that is strongly bonded to the tooth enamel. You may also notice bad breath, as well as gingivitis. If your veterinarian were to x-ray your pet’s mouth at this point, there would be a small amount of bone loss (less than 25%) of the supporting structures of the teeth.
Stage 3 is known as moderate periodontitis and this is when serious dental damage begins to occur in the dog’s mouth. Periodontal ‘pockets’ will begin to form which is where the tooth slowly detaches from the gum and a space becomes visible. The gums will be inflamed and swollen and you may notice some bleeding as well as very bad breath. You will likely notice a significant build-up of brown tartar on the teeth. Oral radiographs would show 25 to 50% bone loss, and at this point, the pet is experiencing significant pain.
Stage 4 of canine dental disease is of course considered to be extreme periodontal disease and this stage is downright dangerous for any dog. Allowing it to progress to this phase puts your pet at risk not only for losing multiple teeth, but also for life-threatening systemic infection and damage to vital internal organs. The systemic infection is due to bacteria entering the dog’s bloodstream from the mouth and spreading throughout the body. Bone loss of mouth structures at this stage is 50% or higher and the animal is in severe pain. The dog’s breath will be foul and he or she may stop eating altogether.
Pet Parent Awareness is Key
There’s no doubt about it. Severe dental disease in dogs is scary stuff and will ultimately end up killing the pet if left untreated. And since our fabulous furry friends can’t let us know when something is amiss with them, it’s up to us pet parents to become aware of potentially hazardous health issues.
Luckily, that’s what this website is all about: Education and Awareness for Pet Parents.
On the topic of severe dental disease in dogs, if you are a dog owner who doesn’t regularly lift your dog’s lip to check his teeth, you can start there. Make it a habit to check his teeth on a regular basis, say twice a month or so. Do you see any of the signs or problems described in the Stages of Canine Dental Disease? How does his breath smell? Are his gums inflamed or is there tartar accumulation on the teeth? Do you notice periodontal pockets, a foul odor, or bleeding gums?
*Note: If you feel at all uncomfortable or unsafe doing this, let your veterinarian do it. Although checking your pet’s teeth and gums is an important part of any routine veterinary exam, if your dog hasn’t been to the vet for a while, make a special trip to get his oral health checked.
Other signs of dental disease may become obvious to pet parents such as:
- difficulty chewing or reluctance to eat hard food or treats
- tooth loss
- excessive drooling
- depressed behavior
- loss of appetite
- pawing at the mouth
If you notice any of these symptoms or if you check your pet’s teeth and gums and see any red flags, the next step is an appointment with the vet. The good doctor will be able to examine and evaluate your dog’s dental health and tell you what needs to be done at this point.
The 3rd and 4th stage of canine dental disease do sound grim, but they can be treated; However the condition is more serious and the treatment more dangerous and expensive the further along the progression of the disease. Treatment for severe dental disease in dogs will usually involve serious antibiotic therapy and an anesthesia episode for a thorough dental procedure. It’s likely that by stage 4, most (if not all) of the animals teeth will need to be extracted. The risk is also greater for permanent damage to internal organs and the structural bone of the mouth due to chronic infection.
An Ounce of Prevention…
As with most things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; So it’s important for us pet owners to know that there are very effective steps we can take to prevent dental disease from occurring in our own beloved canine companions.
BRUSHING: Most veterinarians today will educate their clients with new puppies about the importance of brushing the dog’s teeth on a daily basis to prevent plaque accumulation. It’s also important to use a toothbrush and toothpaste made especially for dogs. Click here for a short lesson on how to brush your dog’s teeth correctly.
DIET: Diet is definitely a factor in the health of your dog’s teeth and gums. Some veterinarians recommend feeding your dog a Raw Food Diet for better dental health but tartar control commercial dog food is also available and recommended by vets. These oral care brands are especially formulated to reduce plaque build-up and freshen your pet’s doggie breath.
ORAL CARE WATER ADDITIVES: Designed to fight plaque and tartar as well as freshen your dog’s breath, oral care additives to his water bowl are an easy way to keep his mouth healthy and clean.
DOGGIE DENTAL TREATS: Some dental treats have been proven to significantly reduce plaque in the canines that munch them. Dentastix, by Pedigree, is a favorite of dogs, pet parents and veterinarians alike. The treats are made for any size dog. Even the pickiest of pets will love these chewy morsels.
BE AWARE: Be aware of the state of your dog’s teeth and gums. Gently lift his lip and take a peek now and then to see what’s going on in his mouth.
REGULAR VETERINARY VISITS: Any vet worth his or her salt will automatically check out your pet’s teeth and gums on any regular health examination. Keeping on top of the state of your dog’s oral health will help protect his overall health in the years to come.
Thanks so much for visiting and reading my article. Please leave me any questions or comments, or any relevant experiences you wish to share in the comment section below.