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canine health problems
Lab with mouth open

The essentials

  • Gum disease is broken down into four stages — Gingivitis, at stage 1, is very common. Stage 4 is the most advanced and means more than half of a tooth’s support structure is lost.
  • It’s preventable — Plaque removal and general cleaning help to prevent the spread of the bacteria that causes gum disease in dogs.
  • Early stages of gum disease are treatable at home — Pet parents can remove plaque from their dog’s mouth to remove bacteria and prevent future dental problems.

Periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease, is extremely common and occurs in more than 80% of dogs ages 3 years and older. A dog’s saliva contains more alkaline which contributes to extra plaque buildup. Healthy gums are pink and firmly attached to the underlying bone.

As gum disease progresses, dogs experience what is called attachment loss. This occurs when bacteria causes the gum tissue to wear away from the tooth and can ultimately lead to tooth loss. Other symptoms that point to gum disease are bad breath, bleeding gums, and missing teeth. There are four stages of gum disease in dogs that identify the progression of the disease:

  • Stage I. Also called gingivitis, this is the first stage of gum disease. It’s quite common in both cats and dogs. This stage doesn’t involve any tooth attachment loss, but bacteria causes gum inflammation and tenderness.
  • Stage II. This stage describes early periodontal disease where the dog has less than 25% tooth attachment loss. Dogs with this stage may show signs such as bad breath. This is caused by bacteria in plaque buildup and swollen gums.
  • Stage III. This stage is also known as moderate periodontal disease and there’s between 25%-50% tooth attachment loss. This is significant damage. It’s often paired with gum attachment to the teeth, swollen and even bleeding gums.
  • Stage IV. This is severe and painful gum disease with more than 50% tooth attachment loss. There’s extensive plaque buildup and possibly infection. Tooth extraction or dental surgery may be necessary.

If your veterinarian shares that your dog has the early stages of gum disease, it’s important that you begin paying very close attention to your dog’s dental health. Here are easy, but essential, steps to follow at home:

How to treat the early stages of gum disease

1. Brush your dog’s teeth every day

Your dog’s teeth should be brushed daily to maintain healthy gums and teeth. In some instances, vets even recommend brushing your dog’s teeth twice a day. Read up on everything you need to know to give your pup’s teeth a proper clean including how to choose the right toothbrush and toothpaste.

👉 Keep your canine companion’s pearly whites looking bright with these eight vet-approved tubes of toothpaste.

2. Try dental chews and treats

Dental treats and chews offer a great way to clean your dog’s teeth — and are a yummy treat for your dog at the same time. Many dental chew toys have a textured surface that’s designed to remove plaque and debris while your dog chews. Dental chews can often last a few hours, while treats are eaten right away. We recommend looking for chews and treats with the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal. The Virbac C.E.T chews are some of our favorites because they’re plant-based and easy to digest.

👉 For more dental chew and treat options check out our vet’s favorite dog chews

3. Use dental water additives

These drops can be used daily in your dog’s water bowl to prevent plaque, bacteria, and bad breath. Give your dog dental water drops after brushing, like human mouthwash. We have a list of our favorite water additives to help you choose the best one. TropiClean Oral Care Water Additive is one of our favorites because it has the VOHC seal.

4. Professional dental cleaning

Dogs in stage 2 of gum disease may need professional cleanings. The vet will examine your dog’s mouth and might order dental x-rays to get a better look. This will help to identify any areas of concern like cavities and other signs of gum disease. Then, they’ll clean and polish your dog’s teeth while probing around the gum line to check the health of each tooth. Professional dental cleanings are done while your dog is under general anesthesia. This is so the vet can do a thorough and complete job without causing your pet any distress.

5. Later stages need help from your vet

Advanced periodontitis will require more aggressive treatment from your vet. If your dog has been diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 of gum disease your vet may recommend periodontal therapy . This involves the removal of plaque on the root surfaces, called scaling and planing. Vets will also remove the inflamed area surrounding the periodontal pocket and may apply antibacterial gel to protect against infection. In very advanced cases of gum disease, vets will perform extractions on teeth with poor prognoses.  These treatments must always be followed up with a consistent at-home regimen.

Good doggie dental health is key in prevention

The best way to prevent tooth decay and loss in your pup is by managing their dental health from an early age. If your dog is diagnosed in the early stages of gum disease, don’t fret. You can help slow the disease by following the steps we outlined.

Frequently asked questions 

How can I treat my dog’s gum disease at home?

Daily brushing will remove plaque from your dog’s teeth. This is the best way to treat and prevent doggie gingivitis at home.

Can gum disease in dogs be cured?

It depends. Stage 1 gingivitis can be treated easily through the removal of tartar and plaque. However, more advanced gum disease requires intensive treatment. This may include surgery and tooth extraction. If untreated, advanced gum disease can cause long-term damage to your dog’s mouth that’s irreversible.

How long can dogs live with gum disease?

There’s no research that shows gum disease directly impacts a dog’s life expectancy. But, gum disease can cause your dog pain if left untreated — and negatively affect their quality of life.

Is gum disease painful in dogs?

Yes, especially if your dog has advanced periodontitis. There can be chronic pain due to infection and inflammation. If left untreated, toxins can spread throughout your dog’s body leading to heart, liver, and kidney disease.