by Audrey Harvey, DVN
Most people have heard of gingivitis, but may not be quite sure what it is. “Gingiva” is the scientific name for the gums, and gingivitis just means inflammation of the gums. This condition may occur in your dog if his teeth and gums are not properly cared for. It is painful, and can make dinnertime very unpleasant for him.
What Causes Gingivitis in Dogs?
Your dog’s teeth are constantly bathed in saliva. They become covered in plaque, which is a mixture of saliva and bacteria. Over time, this plaque hardens into the familiar yellow/brown tartar, and prevents oxygen getting to his outer gums. When this happens, the only bacteria that can survive in that environment are those that don’t need oxygen. Unfortunately, these bacteria are the most harmful to the gums and periodontal tissues.
There’s only one way to check if your dog has gingivitis, and that’s to open is mouth and have a look for yourself. Look for reddening and swelling of his gums, particularly along the line where they meet his teeth.
Treating Gingivitis in Dogs
If gingivitis isn’t treated, it can progress to periodontal disease. Again, a definition for you: “perio” means “around”, and “dontal” relates to teeth, so this is disease of the tissues around the tooth. The main problem with periodontal disease is it can damage the ligament that anchors the tooth in place, and even destroy the bone of the tooth socket. This can result in loss of the tooth.
Gingivitis is preventable, but when bone loss occurs, there’s no going back.
To treat your dog’s sore gums, have his teeth cleaned professionally by your veterinarian. This will reduce the gum inflammation and stop the progression to periodontal disease. Your dog will need a general anesthetic to allow your vet to clean all areas of his teeth, even below the gum line.
Prevention is better than Cure
It’s not hard to prevent your dog getting gingivitis; it just takes time and effort on your part.
Buy a toothbrush and toothpaste specially formulated for canines and brush your dog’s teeth every day. This will remove the plaque that has accumulated before it hardens into tartar. We recommend the KissAble toothbrush which is shaped such that it cleans all surfaces of your dog’s teeth at once. This is especially convenient if your dog doesn’t like having his teeth brushed, because you can get the job done quickly.
Don’t use human toothpaste for your dog. We spit out our toothpaste but your dog will swallow it, and it may make him feel ill. Also, it usually has a strong minty taste which doesn’t appeal to dogs. Toothpaste formulated for dogs doesn’t froth or lather, it is quite safe to swallow and it tastes nice. All of these features make it the perfect toothpaste for your dog.
85% of dogs over 3 years of age have some degree of dental disease. Don’t let your dog fall into this category. Brush his teeth regularly and he’s less likely to suffer from sore gums. After all, a healthy mouth means a happy dog.
Audrey Harvey is a veterinarian who has worked in small animal practice for 20 years, and has been involved in teaching and competing in dog obedience and agility. She is passionate about preventative health care in dogs, particularly obesity management and the prevention of boredom related behavioral problems. Audrey lives in Brisbane Australia, and shares her couch with an Australian Cattle Dog, an Australian Working Kelpie and two Whippets.