Gum Disease in Dogs: Guide to Preventing Periodontal Disease


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 the top of our minds. 

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 dental issues as well as help to prevent the risk of periodontal disease in dogs. 

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 or gum disease in dogs

Periodontal disease, also known as gum 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.

What causes periodontal disease or gum disease in dogs?

Periodontal disease in dogs primarily results from the accumulation of plaque and tartar on their teeth. Plaque, a sticky film composed of bacteria, food particles, and saliva, forms on the teeth after eating. If not removed, it hardens into tartar, which irritates and inflames the gums, leading to gum disease in dogs. This inflammation can progress to affect the bone and supporting structures of the teeth, resulting in periodontal disease in dogs.

Gum disease is quite common in dogs, with studies suggesting that by the age of three, over 80% of dogs exhibit some form of dental disease in dogs. Smaller breeds and those with crowded teeth are more susceptible due to the increased likelihood of plaque accumulation. Factors such as poor oral hygiene, improper diet, and lack of regular dental care significantly contribute to the development of periodontal disease.

In addition to causing pain and discomfort, periodontal disease can lead to more serious health issues if left untreated. Bacteria from infected gums can enter the bloodstream, potentially affecting the heart, liver, and kidneys. Therefore, it's crucial to understand how to protect your dog's dental health and maintain a consistent oral care routine to prevent the onset of dog gum disease.

Signs and symptoms of periodontal disease or dental disease in dogs

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 on teeth

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. 

It is important to keep a close eye on early signs and symptoms of gum disease and tooth decay for your dog as gum disease can progress quickly if it's not identified early on.

How are periodontal disease & other dental issues in dogs treated?

Treating periodontal disease in dogs and other dental issues typically begins with a visit to the veterinarian. A vet will perform a thorough oral examination and may recommend dental x-rays to assess the extent of the disease. Based on the severity of the condition, the vet will suggest a treatment plan tailored to your dog's needs.

In the early stages of gum disease in dogs, treatment often involves professional dental cleaning under anesthesia. This procedure includes scaling to remove plaque and tartar buildup, followed by polishing to smooth the surface of the teeth and prevent future plaque accumulation. Regular dental cleanings are crucial for maintaining your dog's oral health and preventing the progression of dental disease in dogs.

For at-home care, vets may recommend specific dental products such as enzymatic toothpaste, oral rinses, and dental chews designed to reduce plaque and tartar. Establishing a consistent routine, including daily brushing, is essential in managing and preventing dog tooth decay stages and other dental problems. Regular brushing helps remove food particles and bacteria, reducing the risk of gum disease.

In more advanced cases of periodontal disease, surgical intervention might be necessary. This can involve procedures such as root planing, gingival flap surgery, or even tooth extraction if the damage is severe. Surgery aims to remove infected tissue, reduce inflammation, and restore the health of the gums and supporting structures.

Additionally, addressing any underlying conditions that contribute to dental issues, such as malnutrition or systemic diseases, is important. Vets might recommend dietary changes or supplements to support overall health and strengthen the immune system.

By following your veterinarian's advice and maintaining a diligent home care routine, you can effectively manage and treat periodontal disease in dogs and other dental issues, ensuring your furry friend enjoys a healthy, pain-free life.

Small Pomeranian dog eating a carrot to clean the teeth

How can I prevent my dog from getting periodontal disease or gum disease?

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 teeth 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. 

Home remedies for dog dental issues & gum issues

Taking proactive steps at home can significantly improve your dog's dental health and help prevent or manage gum disease in dogs. Here are some effective home remedies and tips:

  • Regular Brushing: Use a dog-specific toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your dog’s teeth. Aim for at least two to three times a week. This helps remove plaque and prevent dog tooth decay stages from progressing.

  • Dentabliss Finger Mitts: These are convenient for cleaning your dog’s teeth and gums. Simply slip a mitt over your finger and gently rub it along your dog's teeth and gums to remove plaque and massage the gums.

  • Dental Chews: Provide your dog with dental chews designed to reduce plaque and tartar buildup. These chews also help freshen breath and keep teeth clean.

  • Healthy Diet: Feed your dog a balanced diet that promotes dental health. Dry kibble can help reduce plaque buildup compared to soft, wet food.

  • Coconut Oil: Applying a small amount of coconut oil to your dog's gums can help reduce bacteria and inflammation. Coconut oil has natural antibacterial properties that can benefit oral health.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Adding a small amount of apple cider vinegar to your dog's water can help balance the pH levels in their mouth, reducing bacteria growth and promoting healthier gums.

  • Raw Bones: Chewing on raw bones (not cooked) can help keep your dog's teeth clean and gums healthy. Always supervise your dog to ensure they do not swallow large pieces.

  • Water Additives: There are various water additives available that can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup. These additives are simply mixed with your dog's drinking water.

  • Carrots and Apples: These crunchy fruits and vegetables can act as natural toothbrushes, helping to clean your dog’s teeth and promote healthy gums.

By incorporating these home remedies into your dog's routine, you can effectively support their dental health and prevent periodontal disease in dogs. Remember to consult with your veterinarian before starting any new dental care regimen to ensure it is safe and appropriate for your pet.

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 their 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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