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What is periodontal disease?

The periodontium is the structure that surrounds and supports the tooth. It comprises the periodontal ligament - which holds the tooth into the socket - and the gum (gingiva). In periodontal disease, all or part of the periodontal ligament is destroyed and the gum recedes.

How do dogs get periodontal disease?

3D illustration of tooth bacterial infection and periodontal disease (periodontitis) due to poor oral hygiene

The majority of dogs over four years old have periodontal disease. It begins with the formation of plaque, a transparent adhesive fluid made up of bacteria, protein and sloughed cells that get removed by cleaning teeth. Plaque starts developing twelve hours after a dental cleaning. This reacts with mineral salts in the food to form hard tartar (dental calculus) if not removed. Tartar (dental calculus) irritates the gum, and the balance of acidity in the mouth is changed to alkalinity, allowing bacteria to grow. The by-products of these bacteria erode the tooth's periodontium, loosening it, and eventually the loss of the tooth.

There are four stages of periodontal disease

Stage 1 (gingivitis) - gum-line inflammation and possible swelling.

Stage 2 (early periodontitis) - less support to the tooth, the gum bleeds when prodded

Stage 3 (established periodontitis) - less support to the tooth as the gum recedes.

Stage 4 (advanced periodontitis) - the tooth wobbles, and is loose.

Courtesy: Main Street Animal Hospital 106 E Main St Amelia, OH 45102

How is periodontal disease diagnosed?

X-ray of a dog's skull and teeth
X-ray of a dog's skull and teeth

X-rays of the inside of the dog's mouth provide veterinarians with different views of the teeth while examining gums using a periodontal probe detects any soft tissue changes (periodontal pockets).

An X-ray shows areas of bone loss, where pockets are likely to be - but does not show pockets or their depth. Teeth with more than half the bone around them lost, are less likely to be saved.

Periodontal probe
Periodontal probe

The periodontal probe enables the depth and shape of any pockets to be measured in addition to showing gum bleeding and inflammation.

How is periodontal disease treated?


Each stage of disease requires different care:

Stage 1 (gingivitis) - professional teeth cleaning and home care.

Stage 2 & 3 (early & established periodontitis) - home care and application of an antibiotic gel.

Stage 4 (advanced periodontitis) - removal of the tooth or gum surgery to reduce the periodontal pocket.

How is periodontal disease prevented?

How is periodontal disease prevented?
How is periodontal disease prevented?

The periodontal disease commonly affects the area around the teeth and eventually leads to tooth loss. Brushing a dog's teeth regularly prevents this. A dog's teeth deserve as much care as our own!

Tooth brushing is the key to prevention, an easy process with most small animals.

Step 1 (select a dog toothbrush) - there are many types, including a mini-brush that fits over the index finger.

Select a dog toothbrush
Select a dog toothbrush

Step 2 (select a dog toothpaste) - the best dog toothpaste contains enzymes that help control plaque, and perhaps fluoride to help control bacteria. Do not use human kinds of toothpaste, sometimes they contain baking soda, detergents or salt.

Step 3 (brushing technique) - the toothpaste is placed between the bristles rather than on top of them. This allows the paste to spend the maximum possible time next to the teeth.

Brushing technique
Brushing technique

Brushing is easily accepted by pets if they are approached in a gentle manner and is started when they are young, however, even older pets accept the process. The process is started slowly, using a soft cloth to wipe the teeth, front and back, in a similar way eventually, the toothbrush is going to be used. This is done twice daily and after about two weeks the dog becomes familiar with it all. The toothbrush is then taken, soaked in warm water and brushing is done twice daily for several days. The toothpaste is added once the pet accepts the brushing.

The toothbrush bristles are placed at the gum edge where the teeth and gum meet and then moved in an oval pattern. The bristle ends are gently forced into the area around the base of each tooth and also into the space between teeth. Ten short back-and-forth motions are completed, covering three to four teeth at a time. The brush is then moved to a new location, paying most attention to the outside of the upper teeth.



Practising teeth brushing from an early age ensures that a dog becomes familiar with it and is happy to have it done regularly. It prevents plaque from forming and keeps periodontal disease at bay. It saves a dog from tooth decay, toothache and eventual loss of teeth. Besides, it also prevents bad breath (halitosis) often associated with decaying teeth



Gorrel, C. (1998). Periodontal disease and diet in domestic pets. The Journal of nutrition, 128(12), 2712S-2714S.

Williams, R. C. (1990). Periodontal disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 322(6), 373-382.

Genco, R., Offenbacher, S., & Beck, J. (2002). Periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease: epidemiology and possible mechanisms. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 133, 14S-22S.

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