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5 signs of dental disease in dogs

Dental and periodontal problems are among the most common health problems in dogs. By age three, signs of periodontal disease can be seen in around 80% of dogs. Unfortunately, most periodontal disease occurs below the gum line and out of sight, making it hard to diagnose early. Here we’ll look at the most common causes of dental and periodontal disease in dogs and offer some solutions to help you spot the signs of disease early.

Causes of Periodontal Disease in Dogs

The chief cause of dental and periodontal disease in dogs is bacterial. Tartar plaques from food deposits form between the teeth and serve as a haven for unwanted oral bacteria. These bacteria establish colonies and slowly begin to consume the tissues and structures that support the teeth. Left untreated, these bacteria can cause tooth decay, gum recession, oral infections, bone loss, and even loss of integrity of the jawbone.

5 Symptoms to Watch

So how do you spot the signs of dental and periodontal disease in your dog, before they become a serious health problem? The signs may be subtle, but if you know what to look for, you can spot them in time to get your dog t he necessary dental care.

1. Bad breath. Foul-smelling breath is often the first (and sometimes the only) sign of early periodontal disease in dogs. While not definitive on its own, bad breath is definitely a sign al to take your dog in for a dental evaluation by your vet.

2. Red, swollen, or bleeding gums. Gum irritation is another sign that bacteria have reached and infected the gums of your dog. If you notice these symptoms, contact your vet immediately and schedule an appointment.

3. Increased buildup of plaque deposits. Dental plaques are common on the surface of your dog’s teeth, and though they are not in themselves a signal of periodontal disease, bacterial spread and tissue damage (including bone loss) are associated with the presence of heavy plaque deposits. Your vet can do a thorough cleaning to remove the plaques, as well as cleaning under the gum line to remove any bacterial colonies there.

4. Excessive drooling. Most dogs drool sometimes, especially if t they anticipate a treat. But if your animal displays excessive drooling or drooling not associated with mealtime, it could be the sign of a more serious dental or periodontal issue.

5. Difficulty chewing/weight loss. As in humans, dental issues often cause pain and discomfort in dogs. Severe dental or periodontal disease can make even eating a simple meal painful. A dog with severe dental discomfort may have difficulty chewing, may eat less, or even show significant weight loss. All of these are red flags that signal the need for an immediate vet visit.

Preventive Dental Care

When it comes to dental and periodontal disease, vigilance, preventive care, and regular dental checkups are your best allies.

  • Watch for any of the previously mentioned signs of disease and contact your vet if you notice any of them. Early intervention can substantially improve outcomes—and reduce your vet bill!
  • Develop a regular home dental care plan for your dog. Many dogs tolerate regular tooth-brushing from their owners or can be trained to do so. A regular brushing once or twice a week can help prevent buildup of tartar deposits that lead to disease. For dogs that are les compliant, your vet can recommend a mouth rinse or chew treat designed to break down the tartar plaques that cause oral disease.
  • Establish a routine of regular veterinary dental cleanings for your dog. Vets have tools that you likely won’t find in your home. By performing a thorough dental exam (with your pet under anesthesia), your vet can perform a complete cleaning (including under the gum line) and can quickly identify any trouble spots.

Editor’s Note: Keeping your pet’s teeth healthy is a must year-round! Here are five tips for keeping those canine and feline teeth clean and healthy.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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