How do you fix dental problems in dogs? Let’s Explore

Are dental problems the same in pets and people?

Dogs can get many of the same or similar oral diseases as are seen in people. However, whereas the most common dental disease in people is tooth decay or cavities, in dogs it is periodontal disease. Whether someone develops cavities or not depends on multiple factors including environmental, bacterial plaque, and diet, but ultimately, there is tooth decay.

In dogs, tooth decay is rare representing less than 10% of all dental problems. The most common dental problems seen in dogs are periodontal disease and fractured teeth.

Periodontal disease is a term used to describe infection and associated inflammation of the periodontium (the tissues surrounding the tooth). Specifically, there are four tissues that make up the periodontium. They are the gingiva, the cementum (covering of the root surface), the periodontal ligament (the ligament attaching the tooth root to the bone) and the alveolar bone. Periodontal diseases begin with gingivitis and left untreated, the infection often spreads deeper into the tooth socket, destroying the bone. Ultimately, the tooth becomes loose and may fall out over time.

It is estimated that more than two-thirds of dogs over three years of age suffer from some degree of periodontal disease, making it the most common disease affecting pet dogs.

Can plaque and tartar be prevented?

The rate at which plaque becomes mineralized is much quicker in some dogs than in others.

The best way to prevent tartar build-up is through daily tooth brushing using a toothpaste that is specifically formulated for dogs and is designed to be swallowed. Unfortunately, even though it is the best form of plaque control, most dog owners do not brush their dog’s teeth daily.

Special dog chew toys and treats may also help reduce or delay plaque and tartar build-up. Some pet foods have been specifically formulated as dental diets that mechanically and/or chemically assist in plaque removal. Water additives are also available.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council evaluates dental products for effectiveness and their seal of acceptance will only be found on products which have been shown to reduce the accumulation of plaque and/or tartar. You can visit their website ( for a list of plaque control products. Your veterinarian can help you decide which options are right for your dog.

How does tartar form and why is it a problem?

The mouth is home to thousands of bacteria. As these bacteria multiply on the tooth’s surface, they form an invisible layer called plaque and organize into a biofilm. In very simple terms, a biofilm is a collection of bacteria structured in such a way as to be very resistant to removal and difficult for antibiotics to access. Some of this plaque is removed naturally by the dogs tongue and chewing habits.

If allowed to remain on the tooth’s surface, plaque thickens and mineralizes resulting in tartar. Tartar is a rough material which attracts more plaque to “stick” to the tooth surface. Plaque bacteria which comes into contact with the gingiva (the gums) can result in inflammation (gingivitis). Gingivitis is always the first stage of periodontal disease and it is the only truly reversible stage.

Consequences of Untreated Dental Disease for Dogs

Keeping teeth and gums in a healthy condition is as important for dogs as it is for humans.

Gum disease (AKA periodontal disease) is the most common health problem affecting a dog’s mouth. By the age of two, up to 80% of dogs already have some form of dental disease.

If not treated properly, the advanced stages of gum disease can cause chronic pain, eroded gums, and teeth loss. It can also lead to more serious conditions affecting major organs like the heart, kidney, liver, and lungs.

Not all pet insurance policies cover dental illness and disease. Our pet insurance policies include dental coverage for accidents and unforeseen illnesses, like those related to periodontal disease.