It is estimated that 80% of dogs will have some form of dental disease by the time they are two years old, unless preventive measures are taken.

chew toys can help prevent dental disease in dogsThis sounds strange. Surely wolves aren’t running around with rotten teeth? Well, wolves don’t eat the same things dogs do. In our own ancestry, until relatively recent times, dental abscesses were a leading cause of death. Not everything in nature works properly.

What is dental disease in dogs?

Dental disease, or canine periodontitis, is a bacterial infection of the mouth and gums, which can begin with something as innocent-seeming as plaque or swollen gums. However, it progresses from this to a tartar (a hard plaque-like substance deposited on the teeth) build-up and receding gums. Receding gums can cause your pet pain, as the bottom of the tooth is exposed, making it more sensitive to temperature and increasing the chance of tooth decay. In the advanced stages, your dog could suffer from loose or lost teeth, bone loss and potentially fatal dental ulcers.

For more information, check out PetMD.

What causes dental disease in dogs?

Two common forms of bacteria, Streptacoccus and Actinomyces, are among the most common causes, but too much grain and ‘human food’ in your dog’s diet can also contribute. Dogs are on the carnivorous side of the omnivore spectrum, in that their consumption of vegetables or grains in the wild was incidental, coming mostly from the digestive tracts of animals they hunted or scavenged. They don’t have the dental or digestive equipment to handle processed meats containing added sugar or a large amount of grain.


In toy or teacup dogs, the crowding of the mouth caused by small size makes these dogs a prime candidate for dental disease. Another group at risk is those whose teeth are habitually exposed to the outside air, such as those dogs with a pronounced under-bite.

What are the warning signs of dental disease in dogs?

Dogs evolved as a medium-size predator. Obvious signs of weakness and infirmity in these predators are hidden, for fear that they will either be marked as an easy target by larger predators. This means that dogs hide their pain, and the pain is probably quite severe before the dog shows it. We’re talking the kind of pain that would have you scrambling for painkillers and calling a doctor. You can’t rely on your canine friend to let you know when he’s feeling uncomfortable.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: your vet will detect these signs way better than you can, and has a higher chance of catching the disease in the early stages.

But, since we can’t all go in for daily checkups, here’s a list of things you can watch for:

  1. Swollen gums: this is an early warning sign.
  2. Buildup of plaque or tartar: any kind of hard or sticky deposit on your dog’s teeth.
  3. Bad breath: not the classic ‘dog breath’, but a change for the worse in the smell of your dog’s breath, particularly if it’s been a while since they ate.
  4. Difficulty or pain while chewing: this may be caused by a fragment of bone or other hard substance stuck between the teeth or in the gum, but it may also be dental disease.

There are other signs, of course, but these are the main ones. For more insight, go to Petful.com.

What do I do about dental disease in dogs?

dog-with-open-mouthYes, canine ancestors didn’t walk around with toothbrushes and dental floss. However, they also died young, exercised constantly and killed or scavenged their own food. Things have changed. You brush your teeth, and your dog needs oral care, too.

These are the things you can do to prevent gum disease:

  1. Regular oral screenings at the veterinarian. Your dog should get checked by either a veterinarian or a canine oral health specialist at least every six months. However, certain dogs may require more attention (then again, some may require less, depending on breed, age, size and diet).
  2. Chew toys and treats which aid in prevention of dental disease are widely available. Vet-recommended brands are preferable. There are also a number of dental-friendly commercial foods available.
  3. Brush their teeth. With some dogs, this may be difficult. Larger dogs might fight you, particularly at first. With smaller dogs, especially toy size, tooth abnormalities or just a crowded mouth may make it difficult to reach their teeth. Be very careful when brushing the teeth of a toy dog not to force their mouth open too wide. But it is a very important step keeping your dog’s mouth healthy. It may take some practice and perhaps some positive reinforcement but it can be done. This slideshow is a good guide.
  4. Look at your dog’s teeth regularly yourself. In the age of Smartphones, it makes sense to take pictures at regular intervals so that you can evaluate whether there’s been gum loss or change in tooth color. Your vet will also appreciate such evidence.

Yes, this is a serious disease which can radically reduce the quality of your dog’s life. With the advice and help of your veterinarian, and some vigilance and effort on your part, you can largely eliminate it from your dog’s life.