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Diagnosing Gingivitis in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Initial Evaluation

Gingivitis in dogs is not especially difficult for a veterinarian to diagnose. It usually can be identified by a thorough oral examination, as long as the patient cooperates. In most cases, gingivitis is found during a routine annual wellness examination. If the patient is particularly resistant to having its mouth looked at, sedation may be necessary. It is very important to maintain good oral health in our companion dogs. Bacteria that proliferate in the mouth can spread through the blood and infect many other organs in the dog’s body. Because the mouth is such a ripe receptacle for the input of infectious organisms, owners of dogs should pay particular attention to the health of their dog’s mouth and teeth.

Diagnostic Procedures

The initial database for a dog presenting with bad breath and other symptoms suggesting oral disease includes a complete history, a thorough physical examination and a complete examination of the teeth, gums and oral cavity. Most veterinarians will also take a blood sample to run a complete blood count and a serum biochemistry profile. A urine sample will usually be taken and analyzed as well. These initial diagnostic tests will provide valuable information about the dog’s internal organs and overall health. They should be conducted before sedation or general anesthesia is used to permit more advanced examination.

Once a dog is sedated or anesthetized, the veterinarian can examine the gums and teeth in much greater - and much less painful - detail. She can probe between the gums (gingiva) and teeth to identify any abnormal pockets and plaque or tartar accumulation. Gentle pressure by a finger against each tooth can reveal any looseness or even complete detachment of the tooth from the jaw and may also disclose bleeding and/or oozing of pus from surrounding gingival tissue. If the gingivitis is very advanced, dental radiographs (X-rays) can be taken to assess the health of the underlying tooth structures and supporting bone. Dental films can be particularly valuable, because many signs of advanced oral disease are hidden below the visible gum line and cannot be seen on a routine physical examination. Gingival biopsies can also be taken and submitted to a veterinary pathology laboratory for microscopic evaluation.

Special Notes

Accumulation of plaque and calculus occurs naturally to some extent in all domestic dogs. However, gingivitis is almost always preventable. Owners should discuss routine in-home dental care regimens that are appropriate for their particular dogs with their veterinarian. Good oral hygiene will not only prevent or greatly reduce the risk of gingivitis and more serious periodontal disease, but it will also make the dog’s breath much more pleasant. It is not difficult to brush a companion dog’s teeth. There are a number of different brushes and devices, and dog-friendly tooth pastes, that can be used for routine dental care of our domestic dogs. The tooth pastes that we people use should not be used for our dogs. There are plenty of canine-friendly tooth pastes to choose from.

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