Understanding Gum Disease in Dogs, What Might be Causing it, and How it Should be Treated

Gum Disease in DogsOver the years, gum disease has been the most common dental disorder affecting adult dogs. Although entirely preventable, diseases affecting the dog’s gums affect close to 80% of canines ages two and above due to poor oral hygiene, older age, and poor nutrition. Unfortunately, untreated gum disease may lead to more severe health complications, such as malnutrition and infection. 
To effectively address gum disease, it is important for pet parents like you to learn about it, its stages, causes, symptoms, how it is diagnosed, and the treatment options available. 

How does it start?

When eating, bacteria may attach to the dog’s teeth and form plaque, a colorless thin film at the surface of the dog’s teeth. Minerals present in his saliva and mouth will then harden this plaque to form tartar (dental calculus). Tartars at the surface of the dog’s teeth are easier to remove and can hardly cause dental and gum problems. However, any tartar just beneath the gum line may trigger a gum disease.

The formation of tartar under the gum line triggers the immune system to send off antibodies to fight against the bacterial infection. This in turn would cause inflammation and swelling, which may damage the supporting structures of the affected tooth and ultimately lead to loss of tooth, gum tissues and bones.

Although gum disease may affect any dog, dogs of older age and smaller breeds are considered at higher risk as compared to their counterparts. 

Symptoms and severity

Gum disease, sometimes referred to as periodontal disease, is a condition characterized with the swelling of the affected gums. To fully understand the symptoms of periodontal disease, it is best to categorize its symptoms based on its stages

I.Gingivitis – Gingivitis is considered the first stage of periodontal disease. It is characterized with the swelling or reddening of the gums. During this stage, no separation or loss of tooth is present
II.Periodontitis – Periodontitis refers to the inflammation of the periodontium, or the space between the gums and the tooth. Some dog experts further categorize periodontitis based on its severity

A. Stage 1 periodontitis – There is a 25% attachment loss of tooth, meaning, the tooth are 25% ‘less attached’ to the gum
B. Stage 2 periodontitis – There is 25% to 30% attachment loss
C. Stage 3 – Also called advanced periodontitis, there is more than 50% attachment loss. Also, during this stage, the gum line may recede and the roots of the teeth may become exposed

Other symptoms commonly associated with periodontal disease are difficulty eating, loss of interest towards food, bad breath, and dribbling.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from periodontal disease, do not hesitate to speak with your vet for immediate diagnosis and medical intervention.

Diagnosing periodontal disease
To determine the possibility of periodontal disease, your vet may check if the gap between the gum line and the affected tooth is more than 2 millimeters. If so, your vet may look into other signs and symptoms of the disease to rule out the possibility of other dental disorders. One sure way to detect periodontal disease is through X-rays. Dog care experts suggest 60% of periodontal disease symptoms are hidden beneath the gums. During X-ray examinations, your vet can see how much bone support around the affected tooth was lost, providing him with enough knowledge about its severity and on how to treat it.

Periodontal disease treatment
Treating periodontal disease is largely dependent on its severity. For earlier stages of the disease, vets may recommend professional dental cleaning, which may include scaling and polishing. Your vet may also prescribe specialized dog toothpaste to deal with the condition.

Aside from professional dental cleaning, your vet may also advise you to start an oral hygiene regimen at home with your dog. Brushing your dog’s teeth may help treat periodontal disease while preventing the possible formation of tartar. However, brushing your dog’s teeth is never an easy task. 

To introduce a brushing regimen to your dog, the American Animal Hospital Association recommended these simple steps:

  1. Dip a finger into beef bouillon and gently massage your dog’s gums, teeth, and gum lines. Make this session short and sweet
  2. After your dog has been used to gum and teeth touching, you may introduce a gauze in rubbing your dog’s teeth and gum line
  3. If you think he can handle gauze pretty well, you may gradually introduce a toothbrush specifically designed for dogs. Remember to use toothpastes that are intended for dogs, as other types may cause his stomach to be upset.

For more advanced periodontal disease, topical antibiotic gels and cleaning of the periodontium might be required. In some severe cases, invasive procedures, such as bone replacement, guided tissue regeneration, and periodontal splinting might be required.

Prevention is always better than cure. To protect your dog from debilitating dental disorders, such as periodontal disease, it is best to ensure that he is getting the right nutrition that he needs while implementing oral hygiene strategies at home, such as oral brushing.