Periodontal Disease in Dogs: Signs, Prevention & Treatment

Dog getting their teeth checked by a veterinarian
Most dogs will suffer from dental disease at some point in their life. By learning how to identify and prevent periodontal disease in dogs, you can help them avoid discomfort.

Even a well-cared-for dog may experience dental disease. In fact, it’s estimated 90% of dogs over the age of one are affected at some point in their lives.1
 
Triggered by the accumulation of bacteria in the mouth, it can lead to bad breath, pain, and tooth loss. In advanced stages, it may even cause an infection that spreads to other parts of the body.
 
The good news is that dental disease is preventable with the right care and attention. Here we look into the causes, signs, and stages of periodontal disease in dogs and explain some of the treatments that are available to you.

What is dental disease? 

Dental disease is a progressive condition that affects the teeth and gums. 

It begins with plaque, a soft film of food and bacteria that naturally covers the surface of your dog’s teeth. If plaque isn’t removed within 24 hours, it hardens into a yellow-brownish material called tartar. 

Tartar and plaque can form below the gum line and act as a nesting ground for bacteria. As the bacteria multiply, they cause the gums to become inflamed, a condition known as gingivitis. 

Over time, the infection and inflammation spread to damage the surrounding gum tissue and bones; this severe condition is referred to as periodontitis or periodontal disease. 

As well as causing tooth loss, periodontal disease in dogs can lead to severe infections elsewhere in the body and can increase your dog’s risk of heart conditions and kidney disease.

What are the signs of dental disease?

Because dental disease is progressive, the signs vary depending on the stage of the inflammation and infection. Typical signs include:

  • Bad breath
  • Inflamed or swollen gums
  • Pain
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss/reduced muscle mass
  • Inactivity
  • Less interaction with the family

How can I tell if my dog has dental disease?

Gently raise your dog’s muzzle and lift their lip; compare their teeth to the chart below.


Stage 0 of canine dental disease

Stage 0 - Clinically Normal 

Healthy dog gums and teeth.

Stage 1 of canine dental disease

Stage 1 - Gingivitis Only

They may have bad breath, some tartar on their teeth, and reddening of the gums.

Stage 2 of canine dental disease

Stage 2 - Early Periodontitis

Their breath may smell stronger with a greater build-up of tartar, redder gums, and some teeth discoloration.

Stage 3 of canine dental disease

Stage 3 - Moderate Periodontitis

Very bad breath, a larger build-up of tartar especially on molars, very discoloured teeth and red gums. Your dog may favour chewing on one side.

Stage 4 of canine dental disease

Stage 4 - Advanced Periodontitis

Your dog may be showing signs of pain, including being head shy or dropping kibbles while chewing. They may have severe bad breath. 

Are some dogs more prone to dental disease? 

All dogs develop dental disease if plaque isn’t removed from their teeth. However, there are several factors that increase a dog’s chances of developing the condition:

  • Size
  • Breed
  • Age
  • Crowding of teeth

Small dog breeds, like Chihuahuas, are more likely to develop dental disease because the number of teeth in their short snouts provides more places for food to become lodged. Dogs with bite abnormalities and retained teeth are similarly susceptible. Your vet can offer you tailored advice for your dog. 


How do I prevent my dog from getting dental disease?

Plaque hardens into tartar after 24 hours, and once tartar has formed on the teeth, it becomes difficult to remove. That’s why most dog dental cleaning treatments are designed to remove plaque before it has time to calcify.

Illustration of a toothbrush

Brushing

The best preventative treatment available. Unlike other methods, brushing removes plaque from every tooth surface. To be effective, you need to brush your dog’s teeth every day. For help with brushing, see our article: 7 Dog Teeth Cleaning Tips Every Owner Should Read.

Illustration of dogs teeth

Chewing

Dental chews can aid oral health, especially if they have antibacterial properties. However, they’re ineffective at cleaning fangs and incisors so they should be used in combination with brushing. They can also cause broken teeth if they’re very hard. 

Illustration of a bag of dog food

Nutrition

A vet may recommend a dental dog food if your dog is particularly susceptible to dental disease. Royal Canin dental dog diets contain plaque-reducing nutrients and scrub teeth with their special kibble shape. Click here to learn more about Royal Canin’s dental dog food.

Illustration of a female vet

Veterinary Care

Your vet is your dog's dentist, and your pet needs to visit them regularly to maintain their oral health. If your dog has gingivitis or periodontal disease, your vet will provide treatment to manage the pain and infection. Advanced dental disease needs to be managed prior to resuming home treatments, such as brushing.

References:

1Fernandes et al. 2012, Girard et al. 2009, Queck et al. 2018, Stella et al. 2018