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I am Your Dog's Gums

Unless your dog is yawning, you dog's gums are for the most part hidden from plain view, but just because you don't see them doesn't mean they are a part of your dog's body that you should neglect! "Out of sight, out of mind" is a saying that shouldn't apply to your dog's gums. Forget about this important body part and the impact can have a negative effect on your dog's overall health, sometimes even causing debilitating conditions. Your dog's gums are an important piece of anatomy and can provide quite some relevant information about your dog's overall state of health. So, don't forget about your dog's gums and make it a habit of paying attention to how your dog's gums look and feel when he's healthy so that you have a baseline to refer to as needed.

dog gum

Introducing Your Dog's Gums

Hello, it's your dog's gums talking! Feel free to just call us gums, but if you want to be more technical you can also call us "gingivae." Who are we? We are simply that lining of tissue that surrounds your dog's teeth forming a tight seal around them.

Just like in humans, we are normally a healthy pink color, but unlike most humans, it's not abnormal if you happen to notice some pigmented spots on us.

Some dog breeds and dog mixes have black in their mouths either on our surface, roof of the mouth or tongues or generally all around the dog's mouth.

Of course though, if your dog has developed a totally new spot or a raised area you have never seen before, best to have it checked out by a vet just to play it safe!

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We Play a Protective Role

When we are nice and healthy, we form a tight, firm seal around your dog's teeth. As you already know, your dog's mouth is used to chew and ingest food and our job is to prevent food particles and bacteria from invading vulnerable underlying tissues along with the roots of your dog's teeth.

 Pink gums in healthy dog

Pink gums in healthy dog

We Provide Hints on Health

Because we are normally slimy and vascular in nature (we're closely related to your dog's circulatory system), we can give you some insights into your dog's overall health.

Dogs don't get pale skin on their faces as humans do when they are sick, but take a peek at us and we can provide several hints as to how your dog is doing. Now, this explains why your vet skips feeling your dogs' nose when your dog's feeling under the weather and instead goes straight to taking a peek at your dog's mouth instead.

Normally, when dogs are healthy, we are of a nice bubble gum pink color. This pink color is great news as it means your dog is getting enough oxygen circulating in his bloodstream. Any other gum color in dogs may be a sign of trouble and in some cases even an indication that the dog needs immediate care.

Training your dog from an early age to have his mouth checked with praise and treats is extra helpful-also because you may want to learn how we feel. We are normally wet, slippery and slimy in healthy, well hydrated dogs.

If we feel dry and sticky this can be a sign of dehydration which can be seen when dogs are vomiting a whole lot or sick and in need of prompt veterinary treatment. Last but not least, don't forget to learn how to check your dog's capillary refill time.

dog pain goes away at the vet

When Things Go Wrong

Remember how we said that when we're healthy we form a seal around your dog's teeth to protect them? Well, problems start when we loosen up and that tight seal is lost. Why do we loosen up? It all starts with the presence of a sticky, bacterial bio-film.

After your dog eats, a sticky film made of a combination of bacteria, carbohydrates, food particles, and saliva forms and sticks to your dog's teeth.

This sticky bio-film is commonly known as plaque. You can detect plaque forming on your teeth when you fail to brush your teeth on time, well, the same happens in dogs.

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Inflammation of Dog Gums

Unless your dog's teeth are brushed on a routine basis, this plaque will keep accumulating and will stick around your dog's teeth, the gingival grooves and under the gum line. When we detect this plaque getting in our way, our first reaction is to become inflamed. We will therefore become angry and red, swollen and we may even bleed, all symptoms of condition known as "gingivitis."

If the plaque is not removed in a timely manner by brushing, courtesy of minerals in a dog's saliva, this plaque will start to harden, and in a few days will calcify turning into what's known as tartar or calculus, an unsightly yellow/brown coating that is difficult to remove.

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The good news is that early 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.

 Red gums and tartar

Red gums and tartar

Receding Dog Gums

Left untreated, gingivitis worsens and will develop into periodontitis, a condition that affects anything surrounding a dog's teeth including all the structures that hold the teeth in place. So when us gums are affected, we will no longer adhere to your dog's teeth like a cuff. Instead, we will start pulling away from your dog's teeth (gingival recession) up to to point of exposing the roots which are normally covered by us.

Soon, since we are no longer holding on tightly to provide our protective role, bacteria will start reaching the roots of the dog's teeth and the jawbone, releasing toxins that eat away bone tissue.

Bone loss will weaken all the dental structures that keep a dog's teeth anchored in place such as connective tissue fibers and ligaments, providing less and less support. Next, 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

Did you know? According to the American Veterinary Dental College, by three years of age, most dogs have signs of periodontal disease

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Systemic Disease

Remember how we talked about our importance in a dog's health and how neglecting us can lead to serious disease? Well, here are the hard-to-swallow facts. Because we are very vascular, bacteria can easily gain access through us to a dog's bloodstream and circulate throughout his body. While these bacteria may be filtered out by the dog's liver and kidneys, tiny abscesses may develop on these organs which disrupts their normal functioning leading to liver or kidney disease.

And should these bacteria happen to attach to the dog's heart valves instead, they can cause endocarditis, a serious inflammation of the inner layer of the heart. Definitely, something to be aware of!

"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.

Lumps, Bumps and Growths

dog growth gum

As with other parts of your dog's body, we may sometimes have odd lumps, bumps and growths growing on us.

Sometimes we may enlarge causing a condition known as gingival hyperplasia. Epulis, also known as gum boils, and viral papillomas also known as oral warts, are examples of some benign growths that may grow on us in a dog's mouth, but unfortunately, sometimes cancerous growths may grow on us as well.

Malignant melanomas, squamous cell carcinomas and fibrosarcomas are cancerous growths that may grow on us. If your dog has a suspicious lump, bump or growth on his mouth, please have him checked out promptly.

 As seen, we are important structures, meant to keep your dog's mouth and body in good health! Keep us in good shape by protecting us from the accumulation of plaque, and while you are it, remember to take a good peek at us so to get to know our normal color so, if need be, you can readily recognize early signs of trouble. I hoped this has helped you understand us!

Best regards,
Your Dog's Gums

Dog Pawprint

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has a problem with his gums, please see your vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Photo Credits:

  • Wikipedia Commons, Blausen gallery 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. - Own work CCBY3.0

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