Dog Teeth: Common Dental Problems

Oral hygiene and health is important to the overall health and quality of life. The health of the mouth has a lot to do with systemic health and if not treated, can cause detriment to well being. Dental problems are prevalent in domesticated dogs due to the change of natural environment and habits such as chewing, biting and capturing prey. The onset of dental disease can have serious consequences and negatively affect long term health.

Signs of dental problems

  • Tartar buildup
  • Bad breath
  • Inflamed gums
  • Discolored teeth
  • Swollen face
  • Broken teeth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bleeding from the mouth

When monitoring symptoms, it is important to understand that dogs will typically hide the pain until it is severe. Signs of oral pain may include pawing at the face, whining or shying away from facial touching.

What is Periodontal disease?

Periodontal refers to the gums and bone that encomapasses the teeth. It begins with gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums and soft tissue in the mouth. As the important structures surrounding the teeth degrade, small pockets of hollow space allow bacteria and food to enter causing infections that result in tooth loss overtime.

When tartar and plaque are not treated and remain in the mouth, bacteria gets into the gum line causing the tissue and teeth to decay, eventually falling out.


Plaque is the thin, soft film of bacteria and food debris that commonly form after meals and throughout the day. Manual brushing is effective in removing plaque from the teeth, however most pet owners do not brush their dog’s teeth on a regular basis. However, plaque is sometimes removed naturally from the mouth due to the tongue and chewing habits. If plaque is left on the teeth, tartar will form.


If plaque is left on the teeth, it will thicken and over time tartar will form. The hardening and mineralization of plaque results in formation. When tartar is formed, it attracts more plaque to stick onto the surface of the tooth. When this happens, it causes inflammation (gingivitis) that further allows bacteria to fester causing infection.

Only a professional, such as a veterinarian, may remove tartar once it has formed

Oral infection

With periodontal disease, the gaps between the soft tissue and gums give way to bacteria which may lead to oral infections. The infection may present as a root abscess. Commonly, with a root abscess there is facial swelling and discomfort. That is because the gaps in the mouth fill up with pus, as the body’s defense system begins to fight infection. Although the most common causes of oral infection is periodontal disease, abscesses may also occur as a result of oral trauma and impact from sharp objects or toys.

Tooth fractures

Tooth fractures are common amongst dogs who are powerful chewers. If you are giving your dog hard plastics or bones such as antlers, think twice because they can cause the teeth to break. The size of the item also plays a role. If it is a large object, that may require the dog to chew in a way that may put pressure on parts of the tooth that are not strong. Resulting in fracture. Not only does this cause pain and discomfort, it may cause infection over time.

How to prevent plaque and tartar

The rate in which plaque becomes tartar differs depending on the dog. In some dogs, plaque mineralizes quickly, and in others it may not.

The most effective way in prevention is daily brushing with canine toothpaste that is formulated to treat plaque buildup.

Although this is the best means of protection, most dog owners do not brush their dog’s teeth on a daily basis. If you do not have the means to do so, there are other options that are still effective such as:

  • Canine oral dog treats
  • Special toys that breakdown build up
  • Dental diet dog food, formulated for manual or chemical removal of plaque
  • Water additives

Effects of Periodontal disease

Not only does periodontal disease result in loss of teeth, it may cause systemic health problems even as severe as organ damage. Bacteria from the infected tooth and tissue in the mouth may gain access into the bloodstream. Studies show that dogs that have periodontal disease are more susceptible to kidney, liver and heart disease when compared to dogs that do not have periodontal disease.

Is periodontal disease reversible?

Unfortunately, periodontal disease itself is not reversible. However, gingivitis, known as the beginning stage of periodontal disease can be fully reversed with the correct treatment and precautionary measures. This why it is important to watch out for warning signs so that the disease does not progress to a point of no return.

How can I reverse canine gingivitis?

Practicing good oral hygiene by brushing your dog’s teeth everyday with a formulated toothpaste is the best way to prevent or reverse gingivitis. Also, scheduling regular veterinary visits for your dog is helpful in prevention.

Bottom line

When it comes to dental concerns, the best treatment is simply prevention. Since periodontal disease is not fully reversible, brushing your dog’s teeth on a daily basis is effective in prevention and treatment. Although plaque buildup can be removed manually at home, tartar can only be removed professionally and under general anesthesia. There is much importance to oral health because it may cause negative systemic health concerns such as kidney, liver and heart disease. If you suspect your dog may have periodontal disease, consult with your veterinarian on professional treatment.

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