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Gingivitis in Dogs

By: Dr. David Nielsen

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Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue resulting in redness and swelling, most commonly caused by dental plaque. Plaque results when bacteria normally found in the mouth mix with proteins and starches found in saliva to produce a gritty material that adheres to the teeth. Plaque eventually turns into tartar, which accumulates on the teeth, especially at the gum line. Local irritants and some diseases, such as plasmacytic gingivitis and trench mouth, may also cause gingivitis.

Gingivitis can lead to periodontitis or inflammation around the tooth root, which in turn can lead to tooth loss.

What to Watch For

The main symptom of gingivitis is red or swollen gums.

Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize gingivitis and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history and thorough physical examination, including a thorough oral examination of your dog. Sedation or anesthesia may be required for a complete oral examination.

  • Complete periodontal probing and dental charting to gauge the severity of the oral cavity disease and follow its progression or response to therapy. A metal probe is used to check the interface of the gum and tooth. This procedure is very similar to that used by dental hygienists to evaluate human patients and requires general anesthesia.

  • A plaque dye test in which a red-colored liquid dye is placed on the teeth. The plaque takes up the dye and the extent of plaque can be seen easily. The dye used is referred to as "plaque-disclosing solution."

    Additional diagnostic tests may include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram), serum biochemistry tests and urinalysis to evaluate the general health of your pet before sedation or anesthesia

  • Full mouth X-rays to evaluate your dog's teeth. Seventy percent of the tooth structure is below the gum-line and periodontitis cannot be properly diagnosed without them. These X-rays also will disclose more serious problems such as tooth root abscesses.

  • In dogs with chronic non-responsive gingivitis, a biopsy may be recommended.

    Treatment

    Ultrasonic scaling, which is cleaning the teeth both above and below the gum-line, and tooth polishing will arrest and reverse gingivitis.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Daily brushing of the teeth can be effective. Brushing your dog's teeth on a daily basis can be just as effective as brushing your own teeth.

    Dental care diets or treats can be helpful to maintain a healthy mouth. Chlorhexidine rinses or toothpastes can effectively remove plaque above the gum-line.

    Follow-up with your veterinarian as directed, usually every 3 to 6 months, is necessary for re-evaluation. In difficult cases, you may be referred to a veterinarian who specializes in, or has a special interest in, dental care. Semi-annual to annual dental cleaning by ultrasonic scaling also may be recommended.

    Products for dental care include:

  • Soft toothbrush

  • CET toothpaste, CET enzymatic toothpaste, or Dentavet toothpaste

  • Chlorhexidine gluconate products such as CHX rinse, CHX guard gel, Hexarinse solution and Dentivet toothpaste

  • Special diets formulated for dental care such as Hill's Prescription Diet T/D ("tooth diet")

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