How are periodontal disease and gingivitis treated in dogs?

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How are periodontal disease and gingivitis treated in dogs? - A husky having their teeth examined by a veterinarian

Gingivitis and periodontal disease are very common types of dental disease that affect dogs. Treatment for canine gum disease involves professional dental cleanings, extraction of loose teeth, and regular at-home brushing. Read on if you’ve ever wondered:

  • What is canine gum disease and what causes it?
  • How is gum disease in dogs treated?
  • How do I know if my dog has gingivitis or periodontal disease?
  • Can I prevent my dog from getting gum disease?

If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss, liver or kidney disease, bacterial infections, and even a shortened life span. It’s important not only to prevent the onset of gum disease in dogs, but to recognize the signs of early gum disease so that it can be treated properly.

What are periodontal disease and gingivitis in dogs?

Both periodontal disease and gingivitis are types of gum disease commonly found in dogs. Gingivitis occurs when the gums become inflamed, often due to an immune response to bacteria around the gumline. While gingivitis can be caused by other health issues, it is usually caused by poor oral hygiene at home and a lack of routine professional dental cleanings. Periodontal disease occurs when gingivitis is left untreated, and the inflammation begins to affect tissue that connects teeth to the gums and bone. Eventually, periodontal disease affects the bones themselves, dissolving the tooth sockets and leading to tooth loss. Gum disease is very common in dogs, affecting 80% of dogs by the age of two. It is extremely important to treat early stages of gingivitis before it can progress to severe periodontitis that affects the supportive structure of the teeth.

What causes gum disease in dogs?

Gum disease in dogs is most often caused by poor dental hygiene. Plaque builds up on the teeth and below the gumline every day and needs to be removed, just like in people. Bacteria found in plaque causes an immune response in the gums, resulting in inflammation. If these bacteria are not removed, the inflammation can progress and affect the structural integrity of the teeth, gum tissue, and jawbone.

Certain diseases, developmental conditions, and genetics can also contribute to gum disease in dogs. These causes can include:

  • Over-chewing on tennis balls and hard items
  • Canine distemper
  • Unerupted teeth
  • Enamel defects
  • Overcrowded teeth
  • Small breeds and flat-faced breeds

Dogs who aggressively chew on tennis balls and hard items such as bones, fencing, and cage bars wear down the enamel on their teeth or even break them. When the protective tooth enamel is worn or broken, the tooth is put at risk for various forms of dental disease. Certain dog breeds, especially small breeds or flat-faced breeds, are genetically more susceptible to gum disease and other dental issues such as overcrowded teeth. Even with daily brushing at home, crowded teeth make it difficult for pet parents to remove plaque, resulting in a higher likelihood of advanced gum disease.

How is canine gum disease diagnosed?

Gum disease is often first diagnosed when a veterinarian observes inflamed gums, tartar, loose or missing teeth, or exposed roots during an oral examination. Dental X-rays are needed to determine the extent of dental disease by allowing a vet to examine the tooth roots and structure below the gumline. Regular dental checkups help catch gingivitis in the early stages before it progresses to advanced periodontitis.

How are canine periodontal disease and gingivitis treated?

Gum disease is treated by veterinarians and by dog owners at home in various ways. Treatments involve dental cleanings, regular toothbrushing, and treating other factors that contribute to canine dental disease. All dogs benefit from professional dental cleanings, but treatments for gum disease vary based on the type and severity of their gum disease.

How do veterinarians treat canine gum disease?

Treating gum disease requires professional dental procedures under anesthesia. Professional cleanings remove hardened tartar and plaque below the gumline, which cannot be removed by brushing at home. If the connective tissue is affected, any resulting loose teeth usually need to be removed. Teeth that have exposed pulp may be treated with a root canal done by a board-certified veterinary dentist. Antibiotics and pain medications may be recommended after extractions, and a change in diet may be necessary if your dog undergoes many extractions.

Mild to moderate gingivitis can often be reversed with regular dental cleanings and at-home brushing. However, once gingivitis progresses to periodontal disease and the periodontal tissues have been affected, the damage cannot be reversed. Once a tooth becomes loose due to decay of the surrounding tissue, it cannot be tightened back down and usually must be removed.

How do dog owners help treat gum disease at home?

Treating and preventing gingivitis at home go hand-in-hand. Daily brushing prevents gum disease and treats mild gingivitis in dogs by removing bacteria from the teeth. Certain dental chews and other products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) can also help slow the accumulation of plaque and tartar when used with brushing and between professional dental cleanings. Talk to a vet to learn more about how to brush your dog’s teeth and what products can help treat mild gingivitis at home.

Is anesthesia safe for my dog?

Like any other medical procedure, putting your pet under anesthesia carries risk, but it is small. The risks involved with anesthesia are minimized by using preanesthetic blood work and physical exams, close monitoring while under anesthesia, and extra precautions put in place for at-risk dogs, such as chest X-rays. The health risks posed by periodontal disease generally outweigh the risks of using anesthesia for dental cleanings, and veterinarians weigh the benefits and risks when making their recommendations. Nonanesthetic dental cleanings are more stressful and painful for dogs. They are dangerous because a dog moving around with sharp dental instruments in their mouth while they are stressed or even fearful puts both the dog and the operator at risk. Even more importantly, a thorough dental exam and cleaning cannot be done without the help of anesthesia.

“Anesthetic risk is mostly correlated with a dog’s overall health, and the length of the procedure also plays a role,” explains Vetster veterinarian Dr. Jo Myers. “It’s a common misconception that the risks increase with each successive procedure. A dog’s tenth anesthetic procedure is no more risky than their first, assuming their health status is unchanged and the procedures are the same length.” Many senior dogs, even those with preexisting heart disease, safely undergo dental procedures. Scheduling dental cleanings regularly helps reduce the severity of dental disease, which in turn makes the procedures even safer by reducing the time spent under anesthesia. In addition, scientific evidence suggests that frequent professional cleanings increase life expectancy.

What are the signs of gum disease in dogs?

The most common symptoms of gingivitis and gum disease are bad breath and discolored teeth from tartar buildup. Other signs of gingivitis and periodontal disease may include:

Less common signs of periodontal disease can affect a dog’s behavior and ability to eat. Watch for:

A dog can still experience severe or painful dental conditions even while they are eating normally. Many dogs show no change in appetite even if it is uncomfortable for them to eat. It’s best to talk to a veterinarian any time you notice a change in your dog’s breath or teeth, even if they are behaving and eating normally. With the exception of right after eating particularly smelly food, it is never normal for a dog to have bad breath or discolored teeth.

Can gum disease be prevented?

It is much easier to prevent gum disease in dogs than to treat it. Daily brushing at home is the best way to prevent canine gum disease. Brushing at least two to three times per week is still better than not brushing at all, because plaque takes a few days to begin to harden into tartar. If possible, start training your dog with regular tooth brushing when they are young to develop their tolerance to the process. Show your puppy that it’s fun, especially when tasty pet toothpaste and treats are involved. Never use human toothpaste as it often contains xylitol, an ingredient toxic to dogs. Even though puppies lose their baby teeth at four to six months of age, developing a brushing habit is easiest when they are young and more receptive to training.

Dental food, treats, chew toys, and other products approved by the VOHC can help slow plaque formation and help remove plaque from the teeth. These products are not replacements for frequent brushing and are meant to be used in conjunction with brushing and between dental cleanings with a vet. Professional teeth cleanings not only treat gum disease but can also prevent it by removing plaque below the gumline where a toothbrush cannot reach.

Why is periodontal disease so dangerous for dogs?

Poor oral health not only causes bad breath and unsightly teeth but can also lead to severe health conditions as well. Untreated periodontal disease can contribute to:

Though recent scientific evidence suggests poor dental health is not a contributing factor to heart disease, there is still evidence to suggest that poor oral health leads to many other health issues and an overall decrease in life expectancy in dogs.

What should I do if my dog has symptoms of gingivitis or periodontal disease?

Talk to a vet about your dog’s at-home dental care and what treatment to expect. It may be best to receive a professional dental cleaning before beginning to brush more at home if a dog’s gums are already inflamed or tartar is present. Attempting to brush the teeth of a dog that already has gum inflammation may add to their discomfort and create a negative association with brushing, leading them to be less tolerant of it in the future. After a professional cleaning, at-home brushing can help reverse gingivitis and slow the accumulation of plaque in between routine cleanings. If you have questions about your dog’s dental health, you can make an online virtual care appointment to discuss at-home oral care for your pet and learn more about treating and preventing your dog’s dental disease.

FAQ - How are periodontal disease and gingivitis treated in dogs?

Can periodontal disease in dogs be cured?

Periodontal disease can be treated, but the damage cannot be reversed. Once damaged, the connective tissue or bone below the gumline cannot be fixed. Regular dental exams and cleanings are the best way to prevent periodontal disease in dogs.

Can you treat periodontal disease in dogs at home?

A professional dental procedure under anesthesia is necessary for treating periodontal disease. Brushing at home cannot remove tartar and plaque below the gumline or treat damage to the tooth structure. While dental food, treats, and other VOHC-approved products play a role in maintaining good dental health, they cannot treat periodontal disease.

How much does it cost to treat a dog with periodontal disease?

The cost of periodontal disease treatment varies based on the extent of the resulting damage. Costs can range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars for extensive treatment. Longer and more complicated procedures cost more, and your vet can give a more precise estimate after examining your dog. It’s easier and cheaper to prevent periodontal disease with regular brushing and routine cleanings.

How did my dog get gum disease?

Gingivitis occurs when the gums become inflamed due to a buildup of bacteria in plaque on the teeth. If the plaque is not removed, it hardens into tartar, which cannot be removed by brushing. The inflammation can progress and affect the tooth structure and bone below the gumline if it is not treated by a veterinarian. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to developing gum disease, primarily due to the size and shape of their mouths and jaws.

Does my dog need anesthesia for a dental cleaning?

The use of anesthesia during dental procedures can reduce stress, pain, and risk for dogs. Unlike people, dogs do not understand what is happening and cannot sit still during a dental cleaning. This can be very dangerous, as dental cleaning requires the use of sharp dental tools in their mouths. In addition, anesthesia allows a veterinarian to closely examine each tooth and take detailed dental X-rays to thoroughly examine the roots and tooth structure.