Blame bacteria for gum disease in people and in pets. Almost immediately after an animal eats, bacteria, along with food, saliva, and other particles, begin forming a sticky film called plaque over teeth.
“The bacteria in plaque does a lot of things,” says Brett Beckman, DVM, FAVD, DAVDC, DAAPM, a veterinary dentist practicing in Florida and Georgia. “But one thing it does both in pets and humans is to cause our immune system to recognize it as foreign.”
When the body of your dog senses a foreign invader, it marshals white blood cells to attack. In turn, the bacteria in plaque tells the white blood cells to release enzymes to break down gum tissue. This skirmish leads to inflamed gums, destroyed tissue, and loss of bone. The end result: Tooth loss.
Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, happens five times more often in dogs than in people, says Colleen O’Morrow, DVM, a veterinary dentist in Manitoba, Canada, and fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry. The reason? Dogs have a more alkaline mouth than humans, which promotes plaque formation. Also, most pets don’t have their teeth brushed every day, giving plaque-forming bacteria the chance they need to multiply.
What Are the Symptoms of Gum Disease in Dogs?
Unfortunately, the first symptoms of gum disease in dogs are no symptoms at all at first, Beckman says.
It’s rare that pet owners ever notice signs of gum disease in their dog, and if they do, the gum disease is very advanced. By then, your dog may be living with chronic pain, which animals instinctively hide to avoid showing weakness.