What is Dental or Periodontal Disease in Dogs?
Is your dog over the age of four years old? Have you checked your dog’s mouth recently? If your dog is over four years of age, and you have not done any at home teeth cleaning they likely have some degree of periodontal or dental disease. Over 50% of dogs over the age of four have some degree of periodontal disease. There are four stages of periodontal disease with only stage one being reversible.
4 Stages of Periodontal Disease
Stage 1 of Periodontal Disease and Dental Prophylaxis
Stage 1 is mild but normally these dogs need a dental prophylaxis which includes teeth cleaning, under the gum line cleaning, examination of the entire mouth, tongue, gums, back of the throat, dental x-rays, and polishing of the teeth. Dental prophylaxis must be performed under anesthesia to be able to access under the gum line. Therefore, dental prophylaxis can be expensive but not getting your dog’s mouth healthy and clean can cause health issues.
Side Effects of Periodontal Disease
If untreated the dog will continually swallow the bacteria in their mouth which can cause heart disease, renal or kidney disease, lung infections, among other health issues. Therefore, it is so important to keep your dog’s mouth healthy to prevent complications from periodontal disease.
Stage 2 of Periodontal Disease
Stage 2 is when there is some bone loss in the mouth. Signs include inflammation of the gums, bad breath, and some build-up on the teeth called calculus. This stage is not reversible along with stages 3 and 4. Some measures can be taken to treat the affected areas but once there is bone loss it cannot be regained but can be kept from getting worse. These dogs normally do not need teeth to be taken out or extracted but do need to have full dental prophylaxis performed every few years at least and the mouth monitored by the veterinary team. How often your dog needs a dental prophylaxis will be determined by your veterinary team depending on how fast your dog gets build up on their teeth, inflammation of the gums, any mouth discomfort, any loose teeth, and bone loss. What you do at home to prevent build-up will affect how fast the buildup returns. Daily brushing, dental treats, and additives to food are a few things that you can do to help your dog not need dental treatment as often. See my article on Cat Mouths and Cat Dentals to learn how to brush your dog’s teeth as it is the same for both species.
Stage 3 Periodontal Disease
Stage 3 is when there is a significant amount of bone loss between 25-50%. These dogs have inflamed, swollen gums, you can start to see the roots of some teeth and some gum loss. These dogs need to have the affected teeth extracted to relieve pain and discomfort. When the affected teeth have been removed the inflammation in the mouth normally goes down since the cause of the inflammation is normally from the body trying to heal the gums and with tooth/teeth are gone the inflammation goes away too.
Removal of Teeth or Extractions
When teeth are removed the dog normally needs a few days to about a week of eating soft food only, no chewing on toys and rinsing of their mouth after they eat. The site(s) where the tooth/teeth were removed can be sore and you do not want the sutures that are holding the gums together to come apart.
Follow Up from Teeth Extractions
If there are extractions, you do not want to brush your dog’s teeth until you have their mouth checked by the veterinary team to make sure everything is healed enough to handle brushing. Make sure before you leave from having a dental prophylaxis with extractions you have your follow-up appointment scheduled, have questions you have about feeding, medications to give and treatments to be done at home answered. It is a good idea to write the questions you have down on paper or on your phone so when you get to the clinic you do not forget them as you can be anxious to see your dog and the veterinarian or technician will be going over a lot of information. Ask your veterinary team if they can take a picture before and after the dental prophylaxis and send them to you so that you know how bad the mouth looked before and know how you want the mouth to stay. These can also become part of their file if the clinic uses digital charts. The vet team and you can track how fast things change in your dog’s mouth.
Stage 4 Periodontal Disease
Stage 4 periodontal disease is when there is greater than 50% bone loss and the teeth need to be extracted. These teeth may or may not have abscesses or pockets of pus in them. If your dog is going home on any medications make sure to follow all the instructions given when picking up your dog to prevent further damage to your dog’s mouth. If your dog is prescribed any type of antibiotics, make sure to give them as directed and finish all of it to prevent resistance to the antibiotics and have the infection come back. Any time your pet is on an antibiotic to help prevent stomach upset including vomiting and diarrhea make sure they are given a probiotic. Give the probiotic at least one hour before the antibiotic or two hours after and for at least two weeks after the entire course of antibiotics.
Breeds That Are More Likely to Get Periodontal Disease
Dogs with smaller mouths and longer mouths normally have the worst periodontal disease. Breeds that tend to have bad periodontal disease normally require more frequent dental prophylaxis include but are not limited to Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Toy Poodles, Greyhounds, King Charles Spaniels, Pugs, Yorkies, Maltase, and Pomeranians.
Breeds That Are More Likely to Get Gum Growths
Some breeds are more prone to developing gum growths such as gingival hyperplasia which can cause discomfort in the mouth, bleeding of the growths, and/or bad breath. Breeds that are more likely to develop these gum overgrowths include Boxers, Mastiffs, Great Danes, and Collies. These dogs normally need the tissue removed and regular dental prophylaxis due to the reaction to the bacteria in the mouth causing an inflammatory response which can create the growths.
Other Problems in the Mouth
Dogs can also get cancerous tumors in the mouth which is another reason why having the dog under anesthesia to examine the entire mouth is so important. They can have biopsies/samples of the mass or if needed the entire mass removed from the mouth while the dog is under anesthesia for the dental prophylaxis. If your dog does have any kind of removal of any masses or biopsies done in the mouth, make sure not to brush the dog’s teeth until the sutures are removed from the mouth which is normally 10-14 days after the surgery to allow the tissue to heal properly.
Having full dental prophylaxis under full anesthesia is important for your dog to be able to get under the gum line cleaned, examine the entire mouth, have any biopsies performed, and have any growth or masses removed from the mouth. Any time your dog is going to go under anesthesia it is important to have blood work performed before the procedure. Depending on your dog’s age and previous health issues will determine what blood work is needed to be performed to make sure the dog’s body can detoxify from the anesthesia or get the anesthesia out of its body and recover. Normally the kidneys, liver, and lungs are the organs that the medications used for anesthesia are filtered. If your dog has any disease or decreased function of the kidneys or liver, the veterinary team needs to know this to make sure they choose the best medications for your dog as different drugs are processed by the body differently.
At Home Care for Your Dogs Mouth
At home, once the mouth is healed and you are able to make sure to brush your dog’s teeth at least once a day with a small toothbrush, pet toothpaste, give dental treats, and/or food additives. When your dog has its yearly check-up at the vet clinic make sure they look at your dog’s mouth so you know when something needs to be done like a full dental prophylaxis.