Causes of Canine Gingivitis
Gingivitis usually starts from an accumulation of food particles in the crevices and other spaces between a dog’s teeth and its gums. This nesting of food provides a platform for overgrowth of the diverse bacterial population that is part of the normal flora inside of a dog’s mouth. Over time, without a proper diet and routine dental care, the host-parasite balance can become disrupted, causing the bacteria that normally live in small numbers inside of a dog’s mouth to proliferate. These bacteria aggregate between the teeth and gums, causing inflammation, irritation, infection and bleeding. As the bacteria reproduce and multiply, they stick to the smooth surfaces of the teeth and form plaque, which in turn thickens, mineralizes and becomes calculus (also called tartar). Calculus can develop anywhere on the teeth, but in dogs it is most commonly seen on the cheek-side surfaces of the upper molars and premolars.
The edges of healthy gums fit snugly around the teeth, in both people and dogs. However, as gingivitis progresses, the plaque and calculus become hardened and rough, pushing the gums away from the teeth. The resulting pockets that develop along the gum line trap food particles and become sites for further bacterial proliferation. The infected gums bleed and can be quite painful for the animal. Left untreated, inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) will progress to periodontitis, which is inflammation and infection of the deeper structures that support the teeth. In extremely advanced cases, affected teeth can completely lose their attachment to the jaw bone. When this happens, the dog will no longer have the use of those teeth.
Fortunately, gingival disease is almost always preventable by regular in-home and veterinary dental care. Owners should start taking care of their dogs’ teeth shortly after the permanent teeth have erupted – which should happen by about 8 or 9 months of age. A number of products are commercially available to help owners with canine oral hygiene. These include brushes, pastes, washes, rinses, bones and other chewing products that help to physically reduce plaque and calculus build-up. Special dental diets are also commercially available to help mechanically keep a dog’s teeth clean. Dogs that are prone to periodontal disease should be fed a palatable, high-quality dry kibble as the mainstay of their diet. Soft or wet food diets can promote dental disease, whereas hard dry kibble tends to keep teeth cleaner and in better shape.
Interestingly, dogs that live in underdeveloped countries or communities seem to be less likely to develop severe dental disease than those dogs that live in highly developed areas. This probably is because the diet of dogs in underdeveloped communities is more variable, and their teeth and gums may experience more rigorous grinding and chewing action depending on what they find to eat.