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common canine health problems

Everything you need to know about gum disease in dogs

signs, symptoms, and preventative care // learn to keep your dog’s pearly whites healthy

Updated June 19, 2020

Created By

, Andy Bowen

The essentials

  • It’s super common. Gum disease is arguably the most common health condition that affects dogs.
  • It’s easy to prevent. There are a bunch of things you can do regularly at home to prevent your dog’s teeth from succumbing to gum disease.

Symptoms of gum disease

Gum disease is caused by the accumulation of bacteria on teeth. As plaque builds up over time and calcifies (solidifies) by coming into contact with saliva, it forms calculus. Bacteria love to stick to and hide on, within, and under calculus.

As calculus gets underneath the gum line, it begins to cause inflammation around the support structures of the teeth, eventually leading to painful mouths and loose teeth. When the roots of teeth become infected, this can also lead to the formation of a tooth root abscess.

Indicators of gum disease

  • Bright red gums
  • Discoloration to their teeth, such as a black or brown color
  • A thick layer of a brownish-green or grey substance on the outer surface of their teeth
  • Foul breath
  • They are sensitive to you touching their gums and mouth

Many dogs with gum disease do not show obvious outward signs of painful mouths or that anything is wrong. It’s often not until after a dog owner has a professional dental cleaning done on their dog that they even realize anything was actually wrong, as they often mention how much more energy their dog has now that their teeth are clean.

Additional symptoms

If your dog displays outward signs of gum disease, you might also notice some of these symptoms:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty eating
  • Dropping food and trying to eat it again
  • Pawing at their mouth
  • Being more tired than usual
  • Eating less
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent sneezing
  • Green, mucoid nasal discharge/drainage
  • Swelling underneath one of their eyes, indicating the formation of an abscess

The stages of gum disease

Gum disease is often referred to as Periodontal Disease in veterinary terminology. There are four stages in the progression of gum disease in dogs.

Stages of gum disease

Stage I: In this stage, inflamed gum lines begin to develop (gingivitis). Your dog’s gums may look bright red and appear irritated. However, there is no support structure or bone loss in this stage.

Stage II: In this stage, the teeth begin losing their support around the base of their roots.

Stage III: In this stage, the roots of teeth are exposed and can be seen by the naked eye. Teeth begin getting loose.

Stage IV: In this stage, the most severe stage, more than half of a tooth’s support structure is lost, and the best treatment is the removal of affected teeth.

What Can I Do at Home to Help My Dog’s Teeth?

Brush your dog’s teeth —The hands-down best way to slow the development of gum disease in dogs is to brush their teeth on a daily basis. Yes, this involves using a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush their teeth. Make sure to use “dog safe” toothpaste, which usually is fluoride-free and does not contain any Xylitol.

👉 Read our recipe book for homemade doggie toothpaste

👉 Read our guide to proper doggie teeth brushing

Finger brushes can be used to make the process go a little more smoothly, as you can just slip the finger brush over your finger and then rub your dog’s teeth and gums with it. Before jumping in full throttle, try to get them used to the finger brush and letting you put your finger along their gums and teeth, so they don’t fight against you or accidentally bite you. It’s also best to start this when they are a puppy. Brushing every day is ideal, but even a few times a week is better than nothing.

Try dental chews and treats — The “Veterinary Oral Health Council” (VOHC) reviews products made to slow down the progression of gum disease in dogs. All of their approved products have a “VOHC” seal of approval on the product’s packaging, which says “Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Accepted.”

Make sure to always look for the “VOHC” label on any item marketed for dental health in dogs, as there are many products out there, but not all of them have been proven to be effective in doing what they claim to do. The ones with the VOHC label have been proven to be effective.

How to choose and use dental chews properly

Dental chews can definitely help keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy, so long as they are used appropriately and chosen wisely. When choosing a dental chew, make sure to check the packaging and that it has the VOHC seal of approval on it. You can also check the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s website to see a list of approved products.

When dogs chew on rawhides or approved dental chews daily, this can help maintain oral health. Make sure they are actually chewing and rubbing the dental chew on their teeth as opposed to just tearing it in half and being done with it. It’s also important to keep a close eye on your dog when you first give them a rawhide or dental chew to make sure they don’t just try to swallow it. Depending on the size of the dog, swallowing a dental chew can potentially cause intestinal blockage.

Some breeds need regular dental cleanings

For some dogs, no matter how diligent you are in trying to keep their teeth clean, they still need professional help. It’s a good idea to have your dog’s mouth examined by your veterinarian so they can let you know if your dog would benefit from a “dental cleaning.”

Dental cleanings, performed by a veterinarian, involve your dog being put under anesthesia. This allows your veterinarian to do a thorough oral exam, take dental x-rays (if needed), and safely scale and polish your dog’s teeth (just like what they do at your dentist’s office!). Rest assured, if there is any medical reason why your dog may not be able to handle anesthesia, your veterinarian will make you aware of this and put a plan in place to discuss alternative approaches to helping your dog’s mouth.

Some breeds of dogs need professional dental cleanings every two or three years. This is typically the case for small breed dogs, such as Dachshunds and Chihuahuas. However, Greyhounds’ teeth are notorious for developing gum disease and are one of the few large breed dogs that need regular professional attention. Other dogs may just need a professional dental cleaning just once or twice during their lifetime.