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The facts about dental disease in dogs (Canine Periodontal Disease)

Dogs with periodontal disease suffer from progressive inflammation and destruction of the tissues supporting the teeth. In addition to causing oral pain and tooth loss, periodontal infections can spread systemically in the bloodstream and may adversely affect various organs, including the heart, kidneys, and liver.

Literally translated from Greek as "around the tooth", periodontium refers to the tissues that attach the teeth to the jaws. In periodontal disease, these tissues become progressively diseased and are destroyed while the tooth itself can remains unaffected. 

The inflammation and destruction associated with periodontal disease is initiated by bacterial plaque accumulating on the tooth surface. Hundreds of bacterial species inhabit the oral cavity. Many other factors, such as the dog’s age, diet, chewing habits and size, can affect the severity of its periodontal disease. For example, many small breeds of dog such as chihuahuas have dog-sized teeth in mouths smaller than a cat's mouth. This means that the teeth can be crowded and prone to build-up of plaque and uneven wear. 

Oral Examination

Ideally, oral examinations should be carried out under anesthetic because the diagnosis and staging of periodontal disease require periodontal probing and radiographic (x ray) examination.

Periodontal disease can range in severity from mild gingivitis (which resolves with proper treatment) to end-stage periodontitis (which is, for the most part, irreversible). It can be classified according to a four- or five-stage system. It is important to know each tooth's periodontal disease stage so appropriate therapy can be administered on a tooth-by-tooth basis.

Disease Stage

In dogs with gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), which is the initial stage of periodontal disease, only gingival tissues exhibit inflammation. Patients may have mild, moderate, or severe bacterial plaque or calculus accumulation which can be reversed by undergoing complete dental scaling and polishing.

Dogs with end stage periodontitis will probably require dental extraction. In some cases, periodontal disease can be so bad that the bone is affected and the jawbone can actually fracture.

Treatment Options

The most important treatment for all cases of advanced periodontitis is the complete removal of bacterial plaque and calculus; this allows healing and stops disease progression. Other treatments include:

  • Scaling and root planing

  • Antibiotic treatment

  • Anti-inflammatory and pain relief

  • Mucogingival surgery

  • Guided tissue rejuvenation


Daily tooth brushing is the best preventive measure an owner can take. Even after a veterinary dental procedure, daily tooth brushing is necessary because plaque bacteria can colonise on teeth 24 to 36 hours after scaling and polishing. In addition, several commercial diets significantly reduce plaque and tartar compared with regular dry food, and dental chews and treats for dogs are readily available to pet owners and are effective in the control and removal of plaque and tartar from dogs' teeth. Toys can also help with mechanical removal of plaque.

Preventative methods include:

If you have concerns about your dog’s periodontal health we suggest you ask your veterinarian for advice on preventative methods to avoid progression of this irreversible disease.