A Complete Guide to Preventing Periodontal Disease in Dogs


Smiling dog outdoors with clean, white, and shiny teeth

When it comes to our dogs, their dental health can be easy to overlook. A whiff of bad dog breath might remind us once in a while, but overall, gum disease in dogs and dental disease in dogs are usually far from top-of-mind. 

While they may not seem like a major risk, periodontal disease in dogs and dog gum disease can affect our dogs just like they affect us. Thankfully, following a simple dental care routine with our furry companions can help avoid a host of related health issues.

Wondering how to protect your dog's dental health, or how to keep up with your dog's dental care without getting overwhelmed? We're answering common questions from dog parents and offering simple ways to help keep your dog’s lovable smile healthy for years to come. Let’s dive in!

Understanding periodontal disease in dogs

Periodontal disease is a common dental condition in dogs that affects the supporting structures of the teeth. Affected areas include the gums, periodontal ligament (tissue encasing the tooth root), and alveolar bone (bone surrounding the tooth, just below the gums). 

Periodontal disease in dogs starts with the formation of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that accumulates on the surface of the teeth. If it’s not removed on a regular basis by teeth cleaning, over time plaque can harden into tartar. Tartar sticks more strongly to the surface of teeth and can lead to inflammation of the gums, eventually causing periodontal disease.

Signs and stages of periodontal disease

It's crucial that pet parents learn to recognize the signs and stages of periodontal disease in dogs. Addressing the issue as soon as you notice the signs can help prevent more painful or harmful side effects for your pup. 

Early stages of periodontal disease in dogs include: 

  • Bad breath
  • Swollen gums
  • Tender gums or teeth 
  • Yellowish-brown tartar buildup 

As the disease progresses, symptoms can look like:

  • Bleeding gums (you may see blood on their favorite chew toy, or in their food bowl)
  • Loose teeth or, in advanced dog tooth decay stages, teeth falling out
  • Difficulty eating or chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Shying away when touched on the head
  • Abscesses (bumps or lumps) inside the mouth

Even if the signs you notice are in the ‘early’ stages of dog gum disease, don’t wait to tell your veterinarian. Advanced periodontal disease can lead to dangerous infections and increase your dog’s risk of life-threatening conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and liver disease. 
Small Pomeranian dog eating a carrot to clean the teeth

Preventive measures: how to protect your dog's dental health

For most dogs, prevention of periodontal disease is as simple as practicing an oral hygiene routine with their pet parent. You can help keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy with just a minute or two of effort every few days. That’s less time than it takes to make their dinner! 

Regular brushing

One of the most effective ways to prevent periodontal disease in dogs is through regular teeth brushing. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste to gently clean your dog's teeth and gums. Aim for brushing at least two to three times a week.

Dental chews and toys

Giving your dog dental chews and toys can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Chew toys with gentle bumps or ridges can keep your dog busy while buffing debris off the surface of teeth. Opt for products specifically designed to promote oral health, and don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

Healthy diet

A balanced diet plays a big part in maintaining your dog's overall well-being, including their dental health. Feed them high-quality dog food that supports dental health and avoid excessive treats with no nutritional value. Try snacks like carrots and apples, which deliver beneficial nutrients and a teeth-cleaning crunch.

Professional dental cleanings

In addition to daily oral hygiene, regular vet visits for professional dental cleanings are important for staying on top of your dog's dental health. These cleanings involve scaling, polishing, and examination to ensure a thorough cleaning process. 

Establishing a dental care routine: how to keep up with your dog's dental care

Consistency is key when it comes to caring for your dog's teeth. Here are some steps to establish an effective dental care routine:

Start early

Introduce your dog to dental care routines when they’re young to familiarize them with the process, set up a routine, and make it easier as they grow older.

Choose the right products

Seek out dental products that are specifically formulated for dogs. Use a dog toothbrush or finger mitt with soft bristles and a dog tooth gel or toothpaste that’s approved or vet-recommended for canine use.

Gradually introduce tooth brushing

Begin by gently touching your dog's mouth and teeth with clean fingers. Once they’re used to you touching inside their mouth, gradually progress to brushing with a soft finger mitt or brush. Reward them with praise, pets, and tooth-friendly treats to create positive associations with dental care.

Monitor oral health

Regularly examine your dog's mouth for any signs of gum disease, tooth decay, or unusual discoloration. If you notice any abnormalities, contact your veterinarian to schedule a closer examination.

German Shepherd dog having his teeth cleaned by a veterinarian to prevent periodontal disease in dogs

Frequently asked questions about dog dental health

Have a particular question in mind? Our team of vets answered some of the most-searched questions on periodontal disease in dogs! 

Q: How often should you brush a dog's teeth? 

Ideally, aim to brush your dog's teeth at least two to three times a week. Daily brushing is even more beneficial for their dental health, as long as your dog doesn’t have sensitive gums or weakened enamel. 

If you’re unsure of how often your dog needs to brush, your veterinarian can help you decide based on health history.

Q: What causes black spots on my dog's gums? 

Black spots on a dog's gums could indicate melanoma or other oral health issues. It's important to have your veterinarian examine your dog in-person to determine the cause and determine appropriate treatment.

Sometimes, dogs’ gums may change color or darken with age, or may naturally present as dark or black based on their breed. Dog breeds like German Shepherds, Newfoundlands, and Rottweilers can all have black gums or purple gums with black spots. If you’re unsure about what’s normal for your dog, have a conversation with your veterinarian for more insight!

Q: What causes white gums on a dog?

White gums in dogs may indicate anemia or other systemic health problems that affect the entire body. If you notice white gums, consult your veterinarian immediately for an evaluation.

Preventing periodontal disease in dogs might sound daunting, but starting good habits early is the best protection against dog gum disease. You can help your pup with a consistent dental care routine, regular brushing, quality dental chews, and professional cleanings throughout their life. 

With your dedication and care, your canine companion can enjoy healthy teeth and gums–and better breath–while you enjoy a happy and vibrant life together!

Want more vet-reviewed tips for keeping your dog’s teeth healthy? Read the latest: 

How Often Should You Brush Your Dog's Teeth? The Ultimate Guide

Tips for Taming Your Dog's Bad Breath

This blog exists to provide general information and education about veterinary health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials is not intended as and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions, or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you suspect that your pet has a medical concern, you should consult with your veterinary health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website, or in any linked materials.

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