Periodontal disease in dogs is very common, but thankfully it is preventable with proper care at home and routine professional cleanings. In fact, it’s so common that according to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), more than 50% of all dogs and cats will have some form of gum disease by age 3. Dogs are at risk for the same oral diseases as humans, and by establishing proper dental care when your dog is a puppy, you set them up well for their lifetime. Below we'll walk through the causes and symptoms of periodontal disease, and steps pet parents can take to prevent it.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease refers to diseases in the tissues that hold the teeth in your dog’s mouth, which include the gums, the jaw bone, and the ligaments connecting each tooth to the bone.  Periodontal disease develops when the body’s immune system mobilizes to fight plaque buildup near the gum line, which is formed when bacteria and other toxins deposit on your dog’s teeth. 

If plaque is not removed, it continues to deposit near the gum line and hardens into tartar. Tartar is the brown-yellow stains you see near the base of the teeth. As it continues to build up, it begins to extend into the gum and this plaque under the gum line cannot be easily cleaned. The plaque encourages bacteria to grow and as it multiplies, it creates pockets around each tooth that are painful for your dog. 

When these pockets begin to form, your pet’s gums will begin to swell and become red. The area right at the gum line will be tender and slightly painful, and might even bleed if touched. This is what we know as gingivitis, and it’s the mildest form of periodontal disease and should be taken seriously. At this stage, the inflammation is still reversible with the right professional care. If left untreated, the pockets continue to deepen and the gums will recede, eventually affecting the bone that is supporting the teeth. This bone loss is irreversible, and this is now considered advanced periodontal disease. 

In addition to the potential bone loss, pain and inflammation, periodontal disease can lead to more holistic systemic disease. The bacteria and their byproducts can enter the bloodstream, and contribute to damage in organs in the body, such as the liver and kidneys. 

Symptoms of Periodontal disease
  • Bad Breath
  • Drooling
  • Swollen or red gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Receded gums
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Difficulty chewing or eating
  • Reluctance to play with toys
  • Tartar on teeth

Note, many dogs don’t show symptoms of periodontal disease until it is advanced, so it’s important to maintain a consistent dental hygiene schedule. Speak with your vet to schedule an annual dental cleaning so you can prevent any tartar buildup. Professional dental cleanings are medical procedures that should only be done by a veterinarian, never by a groomer.

How should I prevent periodontal disease?

Proper dental care is about more than simply brushing. It requires partnering with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is getting the right care at home coupled with the right professional care. 

As a pet parent, you should:

  • Brush your dog’s teeth every day with dog toothpaste and a dog toothbrush (human toothpaste should never be used)
  • Give your pet dental chews to further control tartar
  • Use dog oral wipes to remove any food debris from your dog’s mouth
  • Schedule an annual or semi-annual teeth cleaning with your veterinarian so they can conduct a dental exam and x-rays to assess any potential dental pockets