Unlike humans, dogs and cats rarely have problem with cavities.  However, periodontal disease involving the gums and surrounding tissues occurs fairly commonly.  Periodontal disease is the leading cause of dental problems for adult pets.  It can cause oral problems ranging from mild gum inflammation to very foul breath, root abscesses, loose teeth and tooth loss.

DT fig 1 A narrow groove is formed where the tooth meets the gum line.  This is an area where food and other soft material readily accumulates.  These substances mix with bacteria and saliva to form plaque which adheres to the teeth

Five Stages of Periodontal Disease

Stage One:  

During this stage, soft plaque builds up on the surface of the teeth. (Figure 2)   As this juncture, it can easily be removed by brushing, chewing on hard food or chewing on toys.  If it is not removed at this time, mineral deposits from the saliva will precipitate in the plaque, forming dental calculus (a hard substance that is also known as tartar).  (Figure 3)  Bacteria continue to grow, multiply and invade the soft tissues surrounding the tooth causing gingivitis and red, inflamed gums.

Stage Two:

As the dental calculus accumulates, it acts like a wedge pushing the gums away from the tooth.  This allows food, debris and bacteria to enter below the gum line.  More tartar builds up and the cycle repeats, with increasing inflammation of the gums.  (Figure 3)  At this point, the only thing that will stop the dental disease is to have the calculus scaled away by your veterinarian.  This will stop the periodontal disease, but the whole begins again if preventive measures are not taken such as daily brushing, switching to a hard food diet.  There is Hill’s diet made specifically to slow plaque and calculus formation called t/d®.

Stage Three:
If the plaque and calculus formation is not interrupted, pockets of bacteria, debris and inflammatory material will accumulate of form pockets of pus along the tooth, even down to the root.  This causes further destruction of tissues surrounding the tooth allowing more debris to become packed below the gum line.  Inflammation and infection begin to cause discomfort and bad breath. (Figure 4)

Stage Four:  

As the disease process progresses, more and more toxic debris and inflammatory products accumulate causing extensive tissue death.  Roots become infected, abscessed and rot.  Eventually, the thin wall of bone that surrounds the tooth begins eroding away.  The subsequently loosened tooth dies and is lost. (Figure 5)  Pain can be severe at this stage and the pet may be reluctant to eat hard foods.  Cat will sometimes growl or hiss as they try to eat.

Stage 5: The bone and surrounding dental tissues die, the tooth loses its attachment

Stage 6: The loosens and eventually falls out. (Figure 6) .


The development of periodontal disease is influenced by a number of different things including:

Age – Older pets are more likely to have problems.

Behavior – Chewing rocks, stick or other hard objects can cause damage to the mouth.
Diet – Moist and semi-moist diets enhance the formation of plaque.
Genetics – Abnormal dental occlusion.
Injuries to the mouth – Trauma to the teeth gums and supporting structures.

Size – Small breeds have weaker support tissue and are more prone to tooth loss with even mild periodontal disease.

Anything that contributes to dirty teeth or injured support tissues can lead to the development of periodontal disease.

A good dental hygiene program should always begin with an exam by your veterinarian. This examination will determine the condition of your pet’s teeth and how extensive your dental care program must be.   When your pet is examined during its vaccination visit each year at WestwoodAnimalHospital, a dental exam is included during the health exam.

If the calculus build up on the teeth is significant, the veterinarian may determine that a dental cleaning is necessary.  This is done under general anesthesia and includes scaling (to remove tartar), polishing, and fluoride treatment.  If dental care has been infrequent, infected teeth may need to be extracted and diseased gum tissue may need to be removed.  How extensive the treatment must be will depend on how long dental care has been neglected.

Once your veterinarian has ascertained that your dog’s teeth and gums are as healthy as possible, it’s up to you to keep them that way. Since anything that causes dirty teeth can lead to the development of periodontal disease, it s very important to keep the pet’s them clean. How well you do this will determine how soon plaque and calculus will accumulate, and how soon the pet will require another treatment by the veterinarian.

Brushing is one of the best ways to clean the pet’s teeth. A soft child‑sized toothbrush or one made specially for pets is the most satisfactory. We can show you how to properly brush your pet’s teeth and can tell you what dentifrice to use. You need to be very gentle and go very slow so the pet will cooperate.  Start out with short sessions and gradually build on them. Avoid using a human toothpaste. If a pet swallows some, it will most likely vomit. Providing dry food (Hill’s t/d® is a diet made specifically to slow plaque and calculus formation), access to fresh water, chew toys and hard treats can be helpful.  Avoid moist foods and sticky treats.
It is very important that your periodically examine your pet’s mouth for problems between its yearly health exams.

If you find any of the problems described below, you should make an appointment for a veterinary exam as soon as possible.

  • Bad breath
  • Gum inflammation (red, swollen, bleeding)
  • Lumps or bumps in gums
  • Pain while eating
  • Tartar (brown stains on the teeth)
  • Teeth that are loose, cracked or broken
  • Ulcers or sores on the gums


tD dietHill’s Dental Diet – t/d                   Unlike typical dry pet foods, Canine t/d® and Feline t/d® are designed so that the kibbles do not immediately shatter when chewed. By allowing the tooth to penetrate the kibble, accumulations are “wiped away,” similar to a squeegee on glass, without the use of chemical ingredients or abrasives. Never moisten Prescription Diet® t/d®, because adding water reduces the cleaning action.  This diet, as well as other Hill’s Prescription Diets, is available at Westwood Animal Hospital.



The consistency/ingredients have been shown to help reduce odors, control dental tartar (calculus), strengthen gums and diminish oral bacteria.
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