Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is the number one cause of poor dental health in both humans and our furry friends.

Periodontitis occurs 5 times more often in dogs than in humans due to dogs’ saliva being more basic (alkaline) and a lack of daily brushing that can otherwise help to remove the bacteria and food particles that form plaque.

Dogs instinctively hide signs of periodontitis and often by the time signs are visible the damage has already been done and our faithful companions have been suffering pain for some time.

Symptoms of gum disease include:

• bleeding or red gums
• blood on toys or on chew toys
• bad breath known as halitosis
• loose teeth
• head shyness and excessive salivation
• chewing on one side or problems picking up food
• Sneezing or nasal discharge

To help assess the health of your dog’s teeth and to identify any gum disease or other issues, an oral examination will be performed by your veterinarian.

If there is some plaque build up, red or bleeding gums indicating there is an issue or gum disease, this may then be followed by dental x-rays and further examination whilst under general anesthetic.

When it comes to treatment, a dental scale and polish under general anesthetic is completed to remove plaque and tartar.

Loose teeth or those with painful decay through to the sensitive pulp may need to be removed.

Perils of anaesthetic-free cleaning 

Please be aware of anaesthesia-free dentistry being offered by non-veterinary companies. Unfortunately, these dentals can only offer a cosmetic clean and there will be problems missed and overlooked which can result in years of chronic pain and health implications. The risks of using anaesthesia on dogs are very small and your vet will perform a full examination and possible blood tests before they even consider recommending one.

Veterinary dentistry needs to be more thorough than that performed on humans, as we can say where it hurts! By using anaesthetic it allows your vet to identify painful disease by doing a thorough examination of all 4 sides of every tooth, and dental radiographs. Correction of any problems can then occur on the spot. This is not something that can be achieved without the anaesthetic.

Tips for preventing dental disease

Daily brushing! Yep, that’s right, your pooches munchers are no different to your own!

We brush twice daily and still find out we need fillings yet we expect our dogs teeth to somehow clean themselves! I’m guilty of not sticking to this one but once you get into the habit, it makes a big difference to health of your dog’s mouth and definitely keeps that bad breath away! You will need dog toothbrush, baby toothbrush or finger brush and dog specific tooth paste as well. Ask your local veterinary clinic to demonstrate the technique and start off slowly so you don’t put your pooch off!

Just like us, annual dental examinations by a qualified veterinarian under general anaesthetic are recommended.

Make it fun! Brushing and vet visits are essential but there are a few things you can do to keep those pearly whites clean as well as entertain your dog.  Start slowly, one tooth at a time and reward your dog with praise when they allow you to clean it so that they have a good association with the process.  Build up to more teeth with positive reinforcement.

Dental dry food is designed to provide a complete diet whilst cleaning teeth and reducing plaque build up.

Rawhides, chew sticks, and Greenies and dental specific water additives are also great. Be sure to take any additional foods/treats into account when calculating your dog’s total daily calorie intake!

Raw bones = risk in my professional opinion. Not only can inappropriately sized raw bones cause constipation, intestinal obstructions and tooth fractures, but raw chicken bones have also been found to cause paralysis in some dogs (through infection with a bacteria) in a recent study at Melbourne University. There are many substitutes around these days, so discuss the use of raw meaty bones or the appropriate alternatives with your vet.

Dental disease and periodontitis if left untreated can lead to heart, liver and kidney disease, as well as jaw fractures due to bone destruction around the teeth. For this reason, it’s more important than ever to keep that mouth as healthy as possible.

To help take better care of your dog’s teeth, ‘Dental Illness’ is an Optional add-on with HIF’s Top Cover Pet Insurance. Visit their website to find out more.


About the Author: Dr Melissa Meehan BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Int Med) Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service www.vetophthalmology.com.au