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Gum Disease in Dogs (Periodontitis/gingivitis)

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, causes inflammation and infection of the gums and dental bones which surround and support the teeth. It can cause chronic pain, receding gums, tooth loss and in severe cases, bone loss and a risk of heart disease, kidney disease and liver disease.

What are the symptoms gum disease in dogs?

As well as inflammation of the mouth and/or gums, you may also notice the build-up of tartar on your dog’s back teeth (molars and premolars). Tartar is plaque which has become calcified and is hard and yellow in colour. If the disease becomes chronic, your pet will experience severe pain and may exhibit the following signs:-

  • Bad breath
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Stained teeth (indicating tartar build-up)
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty eating
  • Weight loss
  • Drooling
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Sneezing and nasal discharge

What causes gum disease in dogs?

When plaque is allowed to build up around the teeth it can turn into a hard, brownish yellow substance called tartar.  The tartar can progress under the gum line, developing into gingivitis, causing the gums to become red, swollen and sore. Gingivitis is treatable but if left untreated can develop into periodontitis. Periodontitis causes the gum to recede and lead to tooth loss. Pockets develop around the teeth allowing the build-up of bacteria and introducing infection, which not only causes the gum tissue to be destroyed, but can potentially enter the bloodstream, affecting major organs.

What puts a dog at risk of gum disease?

If a dog’s teeth are misaligned or the jaw is overcrowded, plaque is more likely to accumulate and the normal abrasive action of chewing food is not so effective in cleaning their teeth.  Small breeds, such as Miniature and Toy Poodles, are considered more prone to developing gum disease due to the overcrowding of teeth in their small jaws.


Your vet will want to undertake a through physical examination and an initial oral examination of your dog’s mouth and gums.  Blood and urine will be taken for analysis to assess your pet’s overall health. Dental x-rays will also need to be taken to enable your vet to view the extent of any disease below the gum line.   A further appointment will be necessary when your dog will be placed under general anaesthetic.  During this procedure the vet will examine each tooth in detail, remove plaque and tartar, and undertake any extractions of teeth that cannot be saved

What treatments are there for dog gum disease?

Treatment very much depends on how advanced the disease is.  If it is in the early stages, treatment will concentrate on controlling and eliminating plaque. If there is any sign of tartar build-up, your dog will be placed under general anaesthetic for the vet to thoroughly clean, scale and polish the teeth.  If gingivitis and/or periodontitis is present there a number of surgical techniques the vet may use to save the affected teeth.

Where there are periodontal pockets between the teeth and gums, but the bone has not been affected, the gum tissue and tooth root are cleaned, rinsed and treated with an antibiotic gel to help recovery. Where diseased pockets have progressed further, a gingivectomy will be considered. This is a surgical procedure used to remove loose, infected and disease gum tissue. If any of the teeth are unstable, your vet may consider installing surgical splints around the affected teeth, saving them from extraction. Any teeth that cannot be saved will have to be removed.

How to prevent gum disease

The best prevention is to maintain good oral hygiene and regularly brush your dog’s teeth with a specific dog tooth paste. You may be concerned you dog will not like his teeth being brushed, but quite often they seem to enjoy the experience.  Ask your vet to show you how to best introduce this essential routine.

Feeding your pet hard dog biscuits or high-quality dry kibble is likely to reduce the chances of him developing gum disease. Your vet can advise you on the best diet that is right for your dog.

Also take your dog for regular check-ups that include oral examination and cleaning.

Be aware that many pet insurance policies do not include dental treatment.  Regular check-ups will not only safe guard your pet against this potentially very painfully disease, it should also prevent your pet from undergoing more invasive and expensive treatment in the long run.