Dental disease in dogs is a broad term that describes a progression of disease that affects multiple structures within the oral cavity or mouth. The 42 teeth in an adult dog's mouth are supported by the gingival (gums), bone and other structures not visible beneath the gums. Routine veterinary and home dental care is required to maintain good dental health.
Common names: Dental disease, Cavities.
Scientific names: Gingivitis, Periodontitis.
Adult dogs of all ages, breeds and sexes are affected by various stages of dental disease. Dogs with structural abnormalities (such as under bites or overbites) or retained deciduous teeth (baby teeth that don't fall out) may be more predisposed to dental disease.
Dental disease commonly affects dogs by the time they are 2 years old and the majority of dogs by 7 years old.
There is no geographic predilection for dental disease.
Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Halitosis/bad breath, Red swollen gums, Clinical signs (secondary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms), Dropping food because of painful chewing, Facial swelling between the eye and mouth, Pus discharged from nostrils.
Cause (scientific, common term, most to least frequent)
Plaque containing bacteria and glycoproteins.
Organ systems affected (most to least affected)
Mouth, Bone, Muscles and other soft tissue beneath the skin.
Dental radiographs, Skull radiographs, Biopsies.
Chemical trauma, Neoplasia (cancer), Nasal infection, Foreign bodies.
Dental disease is a progression of a disease process that begins with plaque and tartar. Untreated, it advances to gingivitis, which leads to periodontal disease. Tooth loss is the end state. Periodontal disease occurs when the supporting structures (periodontal ligament, cementum and alveolar bone) that maintain the tooth in the proper position become diseased. Halitosis and red, inflamed gums are easily identifiable indications of early dental disease.
As the disease process progresses, the gums become severely inflamed and recede, and tooth loss may be visible. Other signs may include drooling, dropping of food because of pain and/or colored nasal discharge. Additionally, a ball-like swelling beneath the skin may be seen between the mouth and eye. This is caused by an infected tooth root resulting in an abscess.
Brushing teeth daily with products specifically designed for pets is the most effective method of preventing dental disease or slowing progression. Do not use toothpaste designed for humans; it contains fluoride, which is toxic to pets if swallowed. If a dog's teeth can't be brushed, alternative treatments include prescription dental diets designed to mechanically remove plaque as the dog chews. Gels and liquid products that can be added to drinking water are also available.
An oral exam during a routine visit with your veterinarian will determine if prophylactic treatments or further diagnostic tests are indicated. All dental procedures and radiographs require general anesthesia. A complete oral exam under anesthesia allows for visualization of the entire oral cavity. A routine prophylactic cleaning includes scaling, periodontal probing for pockets under the gums, curettage and polishing.
When dental disease appears to be affecting the structures under the gums, dental radiographs can aid in determining the severity of disease in tooth roots, the periodontal ligament and adjacent bone. Dogs with severe dental infections may require a course of antibiotics, and for those with deep pockets under the gums, pet-safe fluoride treatments may be warranted.
Preventing or slowing the progression of dental disease is paramount to dogs' retaining their teeth as they age. Brushing teeth daily with canine products and prophylactic dentistry as recommended by a veterinarian are the best methods for maintaining a healthy mouth.
Extracting deciduous (baby) teeth as soon as it is apparent that they are retained will allow the permanent teeth to erupt in the appropriate position and will not provide an area for plaque and food to accumulate. This procedure is routinely performed at the same time puppies are spayed and neutered.
With proper oral care, dogs may have healthy teeth and gums even as they enter their golden years.
Ettinger, Steven J and Feldman Edward C. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Volume 2, 4th Ed,. Philadelphia:Wb Saunders Company, 1995; 1102-1105, 1118-1121.
Holmstrom, Steven E., Veterinary Dentistry for the Technician and Office Staff, Philadelphia: WB Saunders Company, 2000; 159-177.
Ellen Hirshberg, DVM
Steven Hansen, DVM, MS, MBA, DABVT, DABT
Copyright 2007. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)