Gum Diseases in Dogs
Periodontal disease is one of
the most common problems seen in veterinary practice. It occurs in two forms:
The first is gingivitis, a reversible inflammation of the gums. The second is periodontitis, an inflammation of
the deeper structures supporting the teeth.
Gingivitis develops when bacteria build up between the teeth and gums,
leading to irritation, inflammation, and bleeding. The edges of
healthy gums fit tightly around the teeth. In a dog
with gingivitis, rough dental calculus builds up in an irregular fashion along
the gum line, producing points at which the gum is forced away from the teeth.
This creates small pockets that trap food and bacteria. In time, the gums
Dental calculus (also called tartar) is composed of calcium salts, food particles,
bacteria, and other organic material. It is yellow-brown and soft when first
deposited. At the soft stage it is called plaque. The plaque quickly hardens
into calculus. Calculus collects on all tooth surfaces, but is found in the
greatest amounts on the cheek side of the upper premolars and molars.
This buildup of calculus on the teeth is the primary cause of gum
inflammation. This occurs to some extent in all dogs over the age of 2. Certain
breeds, such as Poodles, and smaller dogs seem to form calculus more readily.
Dogs who eat dry kibble and chew on bones or dog biscuits have less calculus
buildup than dogs who eat only soft, canned foods.
A characteristic sign of gingivitis is bad breath. The halitosis may
have been present for some time-even accepted as normal. The gums appear red
and swollen, and bleed easily when touched. Pressing on the gums may cause pus to ooze from the gum
Treatment: Treatment is directed toward preventing gingivitis from
progressing to periodontitis and delaying the progress of periodontitis once it
The teeth should be professionally cleaned, scaled, and polished to remove
all plaque and calculus. Many veterinarians now use ultrasonic dental units,
similar to the ones used on people, for cleaning dogs’ teeth. For optimum
results, the dog should be heavily sedated or given a general anesthetic.
The cleaning should be followed with a regular regimen of home oral
Periodontitis develops as a continuation of gingivitis. The teeth are held
in their bony sockets by a substance called cementum and a specialized
connective tissue called the periodontal membrane. As the gum infection attacks
the cementum and periodontal membrane (see above the figure Structure of a
Tooth), the roots become infected, the teeth begin to loosen, and eventually
they detach. This is a painful process. Although the dog’s appetite is good,
she may sit by her food dish, eat reluctantly, and drop food from her mouth.
Drooling is common. A root abscess can rupture into the maxillary sinus or
nasal cavity, producing a purulent unilateral nasal discharge, an oral-nasal
fistula or a swelling below the eye.