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10 Dog Dental Disease Complications

Dog dental disease complications are not uncommon and more and more dogs are affected when preventive steps are not taken. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, by three years of age, most dogs have signs of periodontal disease. Left untreated, dog dental disease causes complications which are not minor and some of them can significantly affect a dog's health, even leading to major problems at times. Being aware of these complications is important so to recognize early signs of trouble, or even better, take better care of a dog's teeth preventing dental disease from occurring in the first place. As the saying goes "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" when it comes to dog health.


How it All Starts

Perhaps, a more accurate term for depicting dog dental disease in dogs in this article is "periodontal disease," which is the most common form of dental disease affecting pets.

The term periodontal means "around the tooth" therefore, periodontal disease is a condition that affects anything surrounding a dog's teeth including bone, gums, and all the structures that hold the teeth in place.

Here's what happens in periodontal disease in dogs: after a dog eats a meal, a white colorless film develops on his teeth. This film, known as plaque, is what people feel upon passing their tongue on their teeth when they are not brushed in a timely matter.

At this stage, this microbial biofilm is easy to remove and can be easily scraped off. Simply brushing the dog's teeth removes this film.

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Problems start when this film is not removed. Courtesy of minerals in a dog's saliva (mostly, dissolved calcium), the plaque starts to harden, and in a few days, it calcifies turning into what's known as tartar or calculus, an unsightly yellow/brown coating that is difficult to remove. The bristles of a tooth brush will do little at this point.

Also, from smooth, the surface of the dog's teeth coated with tartar gets rough, which attracts more and more tartar build-up and soon a vicious cycle is formed. As the tartar accumulates, it starts collecting under the gums which is when all sorts of complications start to set in.

Did you know? Just because a dog's teeth are white doesn't meant they are free of dental disease. Periodontal disease can be present under the gum line in perfectly white teeth, where it is not visible to the naked eye.

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bad-breath yawn

1) Dog Bad Breath

As plaque and eventually tartar start building up, a dog's breath will start becoming increasingly stinky. Dental disease is often the culprit for those whiffs of odor coming from Rover's mouth. "Doggy breath" is typically caused by mild dental disease, while severe dental disease causes severe halitosis, points out veterinarian Dr. Barchas.

"If a dogs breath is offensive then the shift from normal bacteria to those that cause periodontal disease has occurred. It is an indication that there are problems that need to be addressed."~Dr. Brett Beckman, President, American Veterinary Dental Society

2) Dog Gingivitis

dog teeth

Plaque is formed by a combination of bacteria, carbohydrates, food particles and saliva. When plaque accumulates by the dog's gum line, its toxins irritate the dog's gums causing them to become inflamed, swell, bleed and get infected.

Gingivitis is the medical term used to depict the inflammation of the gums caused by a bacterial infection. The good news is that gingivitis is reversible with thorough teeth cleaning and polishing along with the owner's daily care, as no bone loss has occurred at this stage, explains veterinary dentist Dr. Jean Hawkins.

While gingivitis is simply a mild form of gum disease, left untreated though, it will develop into a more serious periodontitis.

"Gingivitis is the early form of periodontal disease in which inflammation is confined to the gingival soft tissues. Animals that have Stage I (gingivitis) periodontal disease have gingivitis with no attachment loss. "~Sandra Manfra Marretta, veterinary dentist

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3) Dog Immune System Issues

As the dog's body detects the presence of bacteria by the gums, the immune system is stimulated and jumps into action to fight the infection.

Soon, white blood cells gather along with other inflammatory mediators to the affected area. However, this immune system response tends to wreck more havoc than doing good when there is a severe build-up of plaque and tartar.

When enzymes released from the white blood cells reach the periodontal space so to fight bacteria, they cause damage to the supporting structures of the tooth. On top of that, left untreated, periodontal disease becomes chronic leaving the body in a state of chronic inflammation and disease.

"The pet’s body and immune system are forced to fight a chronic battle every minute of the day against the invading organisms."Animal Dentistry & Oral Surgery

4) Dog Pathological Fractures

A pathological fracture doesn't occur in a healthy bone as a result of an accident, but rather it is a fracture that develops because of an underlying disease. An example of a pathological fracture is a dog's leg breaking because of bone cancer.

With periodontal disease, a pathological fracture may occur as the bone weakens more and more if it's localized to the lower jaw. According to Veterinary Dental Specialties & Oral Surgery, pathological fractures of the jaw are more common in older, small breed dogs.

Did you know? Only about five percent of dogs develop cavities, while periodontal disease, is five times more common in dogs than in people. Why is that? Low cavities are explained because most pet food is low in simple sugars. While the reasons behind the high numbers of periodontal disease in dogs is because dogs have a more alkaline mouth than humans which attracts plaque and their teeth aren't brushed every day, says Colleen O'Morrow, a veterinary dentist in Manitoba, Canada in an article for PetMD.

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5) Dog Gingival Recession

In a healthy mouth, the dog's gums adhere to the teeth like a cuff. Gingival recession is when the dog's gums recede pulling away from the tooth and even exposing the roots which are normally covered by bone and gums. Periodontal disease in both dogs and humans is known for causing the gums to recede.

6) Dog Oronasal Fistulas

When there is severe dental disease, an oronasal fistula may form due to bone loss. What is an oronasal fistula? It's an opening that communicates between the dog's mouth and the posterior part of the dog's respiratory tract.

According to Animal Dentistry & Oral Surgery Specialists LLC, fistulas are more commonly found by the dog's top canines, while the incisor region is less affected. Because this opening shouldn't be there, affected dogs develop infections of their respiratory tract due to food and saliva draining into the dog's respiratory tract.

Fortunately, oronasal fistulas in dogs can be prevented by teamwork provided by the owner brushing the dog's teeth and routine dental care provided by the family veterinarian and a dental specialist.

7) Dog Tooth Root Abscesses


While a tooth root abscess is more commonly seen when a tooth is broken or cracked, sometimes the culprit may be periodontal disease.

When tartar buildup continues to go untreated, infection can easily form around the root of the tooth since periodontal disease often leaves the inner layers of the tooth exposed.

When the upper carnassial tooth is involved, since the roots of this tooth are long and reach below the eye, affected dogs may develop signs that are often confused with an eye problem. At some point, the abscess may cause the tissue below the eye to swell and get inflamed and the abscess may eventually burst causing pus to seep out.

" Once the abscess bursts, the pressure will be relieved and the tooth will often be less painful." ~Michigan Animal Hospital

Anesthesia-free cleanings are mostly cosmetic.

Anesthesia-free cleanings are mostly cosmetic as they fail to reach under the gums.

8) Dog Bone Loss

Something important for dog owners to acknowledge is that bone loss is something that is not visible by just looking at a dog's teeth. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, bone loss can only be seen with x-rays of the mouth.

Bone loss happens when the dog's gums pull away and bacteria reach teeth roots and the jawbone, releasing toxins that eat away bone tissue, which can happen easily since it's no longer protected by healthy gums. The more severe the stage or periodontal disease, the more severe the bone loss.

9) Dog Tooth Loss

As tartar keeps accumulating, bacteria will keep secreted toxins which weaken the dental structures that keep a dog's teeth is place. Connective tissue fibers, ligaments and bone start providing less and less support. Soon, the bone around the tooth is destroyed leading to loose, painful teeth which can affect the dog's ability to eat properly and even digest.

"It’s not unusual for middle aged dogs to lose teeth. In most cases this occurs when there is gum disease (gingivitis) which can then spread to the tissue that holds the tooth in (periodontitis)." Dr. Pete

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10) Dog Systemic Disease

The most scary complication of dental disease in dogs is that it can cause systemic diseases affecting important organs such as the kidneys, liver and valves of the heart. How does this happen? Because a dog's gums are very vascular, bacteria from the mouth can easily gain access to the dog's bloodstream and circulate through the dog's body.

While these bacteria may be filtered out by the livers and kidneys, tiny abscesses may develop on these organs which disrupts their normal functioning.

When these bacteria happen to attach to the dog's heart valves instead, they can cause endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart which often includes the heart valves. Not to mention, diabetes and other health problems.

" As the animal chews its food, the infected and inflamed gums bleed, and a shower of very aggressive bacteria enters the blood stream. These germs are carried throughout the body and can cause infection in many areas."~ Dr. Fraser Hale, veterinary dentist.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog shows signs of dental diseases, please see your vet for proper treatment.


  • American Veterinary Dental College, Periodontal Disease, retrieved from the web on Sept 8th, 2016
  • Animal Dentistry & Oral Surgery Specialists LLC, Oronasal and oroantral fistula in cats and dogs, retrieved from the web on Sept 8th, 2016
  • American Veterinary Dental College, Stages of Pet Periodontal Disease, retrieved from the web on Sept 8th, 2016
  • Eukanuba, Vital Health Care and Management of Competitive Dogs, retrieved from the web on Sept 8th, 2016
  • Healthy Mouth, Periodontal Disease in Dogs and Cats, retrieved from the web on Sept 8th, 2016

Photo Credits:

Total loss of attachment (clinical attachment loss, CAL) is the sum of 2: Gingival recession, and 3: Probing depth by Lesion - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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