It's important to properly care for your buddy's chompers. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80 percent of dogs will develop periodontal disease, the most common form of canine dental disease, by the age of 3. Veterinarians categorize the severity of periodontal disease in grades from mild to severe. All pet parents should understand the stages of canine dental disease as well as the preventative measures to protect your pooch's pearly whites.
About Periodontal Disease
"Periodontal disease" is a broad term used to describe inflammation and/or infection of the gums and other tissues that surround your dog's teeth. The disease occurs when bacteria accumulates in his mouth and forms plaque. Plaque eventually hardens into calculus, commonly known as tartar, and adheres to his teeth. If left untreated, plaque spreads underneath the gum line and eventually damages the gums and soft tissue as well as the tooth itself. Small or toy breeds such as Yorkshire terriers and toy poodles, as well as brachycephalic ("short-headed") breeds like pugs and Boston terriers are at greater risk for developing periodontal disease. This is because their flat facial shape typically leads to teeth overcrowding.
Grade One - Grade one, or mild, periodontal disease is characterized by slightly inflamed, swollen red gums and a light coating of white or yellow tartar on one or more teeth. Veterinary dental cleaning and regular oral care at home can treat and reverse periodontal disease at this early stage.
Grade Two - Grade two is moderate disease with characteristic reddened, inflamed gums that may bleed when probed, gum recession, increased plaque accumulation and the onset of bad breath. You may notice a thin red line where your dog's teeth meet the gums.
Grade Three - Severe periodontal disease is labeled grade three. At this point your dog may be in noticeable pain and have trouble chewing his food. Thick tartar covers his teeth, and his gums are cherry-red and swollen. Internally, bacteria weaken his teeth, ligaments and even jaw, while bad breath is ever-present externally. Professional cleaning within the next 30 days is imperative at this stage.
Grade Four - The most advanced stage of periodontal disease presents as bloody gums, often with open ulcerations or sores, pus along the gum line, and severe tartar and plaque. At this stage, bacteria from your dog's mouth are spreading throughout his body via the bloodstream, leading to illness, infection and even organ failure. Dogs diagnosed with grade-four periodontal disease often lose some, many or all of their teeth from damage.
Brushing - Start brushing your buddy's teeth daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush and canine-safe toothpaste when he's a puppy, and continue that oral care routine throughout his life to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Check ups - Annual dental checkups with your veterinarian are important for all dogs, but extra vigilance is required for owners of brachycephalic breeds or dogs with existing dental issues.
Dental Chews - As an added safeguard that your pup will love, you can offer him a tasty daily treat that does double duty by promoting dental health. One of the most popular products are Greenies Dental Chews -- a low-fat, chemical-free chew that comes in a variety of sizes* to suit your particular pooch. The shape and texture of dental chews such as Greenies effectively scrub the surface of teeth, much like a toothbrush.
*It's important that ANY chew treat (dental or otherwise) you give to your dog be both size appropriate and highly digestible to reduce the risk of choking.
By Niels Ingvar
Cochranton Veterinary Hospital: Periodontal Disease
Long Beach Animal Hospital: Dentistry
American Veterinary Dental College: Periodontal Disease
UC–Davis Veterinary Medicine: Dental Care for Pets
Pet Vet Hospital and Wellness Center: What Dental Grade Is Your Pet?
About the Author
Niels Ingvar is a freelance writer specializing in animal care and behavior, as well as Nordic film and literature. Niels, a native of Aarhus, Denmark, has been living in Los Angeles, CA for 15 years where he writes and actively volunteers at various animal rescues throughout the area.