One of the most common health problems in dogs over two years of age, is gingivitis and periodontal disease - 85% of dogs two years of age or older suffer from periodontal disease.
The first stage of periodontal disease is called ‘gingivitis’. Gingivitis causes inflammation of the gums however this is a completely reversible condition, that when caught in a timely fashion will not cause permanent damage.
The second stage of periodontal disease is called periodontitis. This stage of the disease can cause irreparable damage to teeth and inflammation, abbesses and infection that degrade the structure that hold teeth in place (ligaments and jaw bone.
Gingivitis occurs when over-time bacteria mix with saliva, blood cell and other bacterial components and form plaque. You won’t see the plaque as it is colourless but what you will likely see is a thin line of red just where the dog’s gum meets its teeth.
Plaque (a clear, sticky substance made up of bacteria and saliva) attaches to the soft gum tissue of the mouth and causes inflammation. When a dog’s gums are healthy the gums sit firmly against teeth. Once plaque starts to form it creates an irregular, rough surface that forces the gums away from the teeth. If not removed the plaque starts to build from the gum-line up onto the tooth where it adheres to the surface of the tooth and calcifies forming tartar (also called calculus). Once calcified on to the teeth tartar starts to erode the gingival tissue. Build-up can occur quickly or may take time - it just depends on the dog’s diet, the strength of the dog’s immune system, the amount of saliva the dog’s saliva glands regularly produce, etc. If the dog tends to salivate very little they may have more tartar build-up as saliva contains bacteria-killing enzymes. A dog’s premolars and molars tend to collect the largest build-up of tartar.
Once tartar forms rough surfaces on the tooth a perfect terrain is established for the formation and adherence of more tartar. Once inflammation is present, swelling of the gums begins, and with it soreness. If left untreated infection sets-in, this causes gums to begin to recede, and eventually ligaments that secure the tooth against the jaw bone and the bone itself may become seriously damaged. Infection that goes this deep causes abscess, bleeding and a lot of pain as well as tooth loss.
The damage does not stop there…tartar also affects the entire body. Bacteria from the inflamed gum and tartar can enter the bloodstream and cause damage to major body organs, such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs.
Failure to take proper care of your dog’s teeth can result in a drastic decrease in quality of life and a shortened life-span.
Feeding your dog the wrong food and treats can make the problem worse!
Signs/Progression of Periodontal Disease
Stage One - Early signs of gingivitis:
Redness of the gums where gum and teeth meet…see picture below.
As Gingivitis Progresses:
- Sensitive gum tissue, bleeding gums (i.e. after a dog eats);
- Yellow or brown tartar on teeth;
- Bad breath.
See picture below…
Stage Two - Periodontitus:
- Abscesses in the gum and jaw bone;
- Avoids having his/her face and/or head touched;
- Bad breath;
- Deep pockets of infection;
- Drops Food;
- Eating/chewing only on one side of mouth;
- Trouble chewing - eating;
- Red, swollen gums that bleed easily when touched, pressing on gums may cause pus to ooze from gum-line;
- Refusing to play with toys;
- Sneezing - nose bleeds;
- Not wanting to eat due to sore or lose teeth;
- Pawing at mouth;
- Unhappiness - irritability;
- Weight loss.
At stage one gingivitis can be fully reversed - no permanent damage resulting. Once gingivitis has progressed to stage two a veterinarian surgeon specializing in periodontal disease may have to assess the damage to the jaw bone - the dog may lose some or all of its teeth.
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