Canine Dental Disease

The most common dental diseases in dogs are gingivitis, periodontitis, oral infections, fractures and trauma, development problems and oral masses.  


Gingivitis is a condition in which the gums around the teeth become inflamed (red, swollen, and painful). This inflammation is usually the result of a process that begins with the buildup of plaque, a film that harbors bacteria, on the teeth. If plaque is not regularly removed, plaque migrates deeper, ultimately to the subginival region, where a cat’s immune system may mount a response to the bacteria, resulting in the inflammation known as gingivitis.  When plaque becomes hardened by absorbing minerals from both the saliva and from the gingiva itself, it is referred to as calculus or tartar. 


If gingivitis is not controlled, it can progress to periodontitis, a condition that can lead to loose teeth and tooth loss.  Eventually it cannot be reversed.  With periodontitis, the tissues that attach the tooth to the underlying gums and bone are weakened because of damaging substances produced by disease-causing bacteria and the inflammation caused by the cat’s own immune system.

Oral Infections

Over time, advanced periodontal disease will occur if your dog’s periodontal disease is not treats.  The calculus eventually builds up under the gum and separates it from the teeth. Spaces will form under the teeth, fostering bacterial growth. This infection can cause a great deal of pain for your dog.  It can also lead to bone and tooth loss, tissue destruction and pus formation in the cavities between the gum and teeth.  Effects within the oral cavity include damage to or loss of gum tissue and bone around the teeth, development of a hole (‘fistula’) from the oral cavity into the nasal passages causing nasal discharge, fractures of the jaw following weakening of the jaw bone, and bone infection (‘osteomyelititis’). 

Tooth Fractures and Trauma

Dogs commonly fracture their teeth from chewing on hard chew toys, ice cubes or other items like their cage door or things that are too big for their mouth.  Dental trauma along with tooth fracture occurs from accidents, falls, athletic trauma (i.e., frisbee catching) and other activities.  

Many times a tooth fracture will occur that does not enter the pulp chamber and only the enamel or dentin is affected. However, trauma that caused the enamel and dentin to fracture may be sufficient to cause pain and hemorrhage that can lead to inflammation and tissue destruction. Fractures can happen injuring the pulp chamber, and bacteria can enter the tooth through the exposed nerve causing problems ranging from internal inflammation to severe infection.

Development Problems

When a puppy does not lose all of his or her baby (deciduous teeth) on time, (around 6 months of age), crowding can occur because there is not enough space for the permanent teeth to move into the correct spot. The permanent canine teeth can be positioned incorrectly which can cause pain and extra plaque buildup. Other development problems can occur during your dog’s lifetime, such as supernumary teeth, rotated teeth and missing teeth.

Oral Masses

Dogs can get tumors (swellings or oral masses) in their mouth that develop into a variety of shapes and sizes. There are benign (non-cancerous) swellings, such as gum chewers lesions or gingival masses.  They can also get malignant (cancerous) tumors, such as fibrosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanomas.  After determining the cause of the swelling, treatments including surgery, medication and radiation can be considered.

Signs of oral and dental diseases in dogs:

  • Loss of appetite or loss of weight
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth or teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Your pet shies away from you when you touch the mouth area
  • Drooling or dropping food from the mouth.
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Loss of appetite or loss of weight
  • Tongue hanging to one side

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