Dogs with an overgrowth of bacteria in their mouth are at risk of developing gum disease. Bacteria bind with food particles to create plaque. This sticky substance coats your dog's teeth at the gum line and causes their white blood cells to try and defend their gums from the plaque. The increased number of white blood cells in your dog's gums can cause the bacteria to release enzymes in an effort to protect themselves. These enzymes cause inflammation and damage delicate gum tissue, which leads to gum disease. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatment options for this painful dental condition:
Bacteria levels in your dog's mouth can increase as a result of the following circumstances:
- Dry Mouth - A dog's mouth can become too dry if they don't have the opportunity to chew often. They should have chew toys and dental chews available to them every day to promote a healthy flow of saliva, which is alkaline. Bacteria dislike alkaline environments, but a dry mouth is acidic and allows them to thrive.
- Poor Oral Hygiene - Bacteria feed on food debris, so when your dog's teeth aren't cleaned regularly, bacteria feast on the food that gets stuck between their teeth.
- Overcrowding - When teeth overlap one another, it can be difficult to clean them thoroughly without the use of a brushing aid.
Gum disease can cause your dog to experience the following symptoms:
- Inflammation around the gum line
- Receding gums
- Excessive drooling
- Bad breath
- Bleeding gums when eating or playing with chew toys
- Pain, which they may communicate by pawing at their mouth
The first step in dealing with gum disease is to remove the plaque from the gum line and give the teeth a professional clean. Your vet will then recommend a treatment approach based on the condition of your dog's teeth and gums. Here's an overview of three common treatment approaches:
- Planing - This treatment is often suitable if there's no major damage to your dog's teeth and gums. The vet will file away a fine layer of enamel around the gum line of each tooth. Enough enamel is left to protect your dog's teeth, but the smooth surface prevents plaque being able to build up around the gum line in the future.
- Pocket Reduction - Badly damaged gums that have receded will require surgical repair. This will prevent damage to the roots of your dog's teeth. The procedure involves pulling the gum tissue into the correct position and reattaching it to prevent bacteria causing an infection.
- Extraction - When plaque is removed, the affected teeth are sometimes too decayed to be saved. In this situation, extracting the affected teeth is the best thing to do for your dog, as tooth decay is painful and can prevent your dog from eating enough to stay nourished.
If you suspect your dog has gum disease, or if you have any concerns about their dental health, make an appointment with your vet. In addition to examining your dog's teeth, they can recommend brushing aids for dogs who don't like having their teeth cleaned.