Humans aren’t the only ones constantly being reprimanded for neglecting their gum health. Over 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have dental disease—including gingivitis1. So, when your vet lets you know your dog’s oral health is heading toward a bacteria apocalypse, they mean it! Here’s how you can keep your dog’s gum health in check.
What Affects Your Dog’s Gum Health?
When your pup flashes a derpy smile, do you notice brownish-yellow gunk on their not-so-pearly whites? It’s probably no surprise that the state of your dog’s teeth—and their overall oral health—directly affect their gum health. If your pup’s teeth are in rough shape, and you’ve fallen behind (or given up!) on brushing, this gives bacteria a license to wreak havoc. Eventually, all that bacteria from plaque buildup, tartar, and leftover kibble is going to lead to gum disease—a.k.a gingivitis.
So, how do you prevent an all-out bacteria battle from starting in the first place? You’ll need a strong at-home dental care routine, and yearly dental exams! This also happens to be the key to getting puppy kisses that don’t smell like mouth farts!
What Is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is an early stage of periodontal disease (a.k.a dental disease). It’s also your first warning sign that you need to take serious action. During this early stage, your pup’s gums (a.k.a gingiva) will start to look red and inflamed due to plaque buildup on their teeth. As plaque builds up, bacteria starts raging, and signals your dog’s immune system to kick into action by releasing enzymes. This interaction between bacteria and enzymes creates the inflammation2. If left untreated, the problem can escalate to chronic pain, gum erosion, periodontal disease, and other serious health conditions2.
When you start noticing funky breath, red blood specs on your pup’s toys after chewing, or red gums, you can bet that gingivitis is to blame. It’s a warning sign that tissue is irritated, and that it’s time to take action to prevent their dental health from going further downhill.
Signs Of Gingivitis
- Bright red gums
- Swollen/inflamed gums
- Plaque and tartar buildup on teeth
- Bleeding gums
- Red blood spots left behind on chew toys
- Receding gums
- Loose/wiggly teeth
- Avoiding touch near the mouth
How To Keep Your Dog’s Gums Healthy And Clean
🎶 Brush, brush, brush their teeth—gently every day! Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily—avoid the tooth decay!🎶 As the song suggests, brushing your dog’s teeth is a huge part of keeping gums healthy. But there’s other steps you should take to keep your pup’s gums and teeth in tip-top shape.
Schedule A Dental Exam And Doggie Dental
Unfortunately, no amount of at-home care can reverse periodontal disease and anything beyond the earliest gingivitis. Not to mention, there’s no way for pet parents to tell how deep dental problems go. For that reason, it’s incredibly important to visit your dog’s vet for a thorough dental exam. They’ll be able to determine where your pup stands with their dental health, and create a plan for treatment.
A professional doggie dental under general anesthesia is often necessary to treat the root of the problem first. From there, your vet will likely suggest at-home dental care to keep any pesky plaque and bacteria under control for as long as possible.
Beware Of Bleeding Or Inflamed Gums
If you ever notice your pup’s gums bleeding after chewing on a toy or after toothbrushing, that’s your early warning sign to nip this problem in the bud. Bleeding, inflamed, and red gums are your literal red-flag warning that your pup’s mouth is at war with gingivitis. Make sure to take your dog for a dental exam, and discuss treatment options with your vet.
Don’t Ignore Bad Breath
Have you ever gone in for a smooch on your pup’s snoot only to be greeted with some hot, steamy dumpster-breath? Most pet parents have. The only problem is that it became all too common for pet parents to assume funky breath is just something all dogs deal with. In reality, that skunk-fart dog breath is actually a warning sign that bacteria is brewing from periodontal disease. No amount of breath mints will fix this situation! Make sure to take your dog in for a dental exam, and up your game on their dental care routine.
Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
Toothbrushing is the key to keeping your pup’s dental health under control. Vets consider it the gold standard in preventative dental care. That means that, while other dental care prevention can be beneficial, nothing beats a good ol’ toothbrush.
Unfortunately, some dogs really know how to put up a fight when it comes to letting pet parents get that bristly brush in their mouth. Brushing daily with a toothbrush and dog-friendly toothpaste (meaning it doesn’t contain ingredients toxic to dogs) is always going to get you the best results. But with finicky dogs you may need to find some compromises. That might look like brushing fewer days per week, or using other types of toothbrushes—like a finger brush—that’s less invasive.
Keep in mind that a dog who is resentful of your attempts to brush their teeth may actually be experiencing pain or discomfort due to existing disease or problem teeth – so always make sure to have a vet check them out before plowing ahead with brushing.
Treat Them To Doggie Dental Chews
A daily doggie dental chew is the perfect companion to your dog’s toothbrushing routine. Although nothing cleans like a toothbrush, a once-daily doggie dental chew has been proven to help reduce plaque and tartar buildup3. They’re also a perfect reward after wrestling your pup to get their teeth brushed! Dental chews, in combo with a dog-friendly enzymatic toothpaste, can help break down nasty bacteria and leftover food particles, then brush it all away as your pup chews.
Consider A Dental Diet
Certain prescription dental diets have been proven to improve overall dental health as part of a dental care routine4. You’ll want to look for dog foods awarded the VOHC seal for plaque and tartar control. Just like other at-home dental care, a dental diet alone can’t reverse advanced gingivitis and periodontal disease. It can, however, help prevent these problems from getting started in the first place. Most dental diets will require a prescription, so talk to your vet about which food they recommend.
Try Dental Water Additives, Wipes, Or Sprays
Dental water-additives, dental wipes, and dental sprays all contain enzymes that help break down the bacteria, plaque, and leftover food in your pup’s mouth. These are a great addition to your dog’s dental care routine to help keep plaque and tartar at bay. Be sure to check out the list of VOHC Accepted Products for Dogs to find the product that’s right for you.
Provide Plenty Of Chew Toys!
Every dog loves chew toys! They’re a fun, bouncy, bumpy, squeaky way for your pup to keep their teeth clean. Toys alone can’t prevent dental disease, but the abrasive action created as your pup chews helps remove debris from their teeth.
Always look for chew toys that you’re able to dent with your fingernail. Anything harder can create even more problems by possibly breaking or cracking teeth. Look for rubber toys, teeth-safe nylon toys, and rope toys to keep your dog busy! Note that tennis balls can wear down teeth (much like people grinding their teeth), so change it up with rubber balls and toys if your dog is a tennis lover.
This article has been reviewed by Margo Hennet, DVM.
Margo Hennet, DVM, cVMA, and veterinarian at BARK is a canine nutrition, health, & wellness connoisseur. She has a combined 10 years of experience in clinical medicine, research, and education—that’s 70 dog years of know-how—and graduated from Colorado State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. She completed specialized training in internal medicine prior to working as a general practitioner in Colorado, has authored peer-reviewed publications and textbook chapters, holds certification in veterinary medical acupuncture, and is a member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition and American Veterinary Medical Association.
1 Enlund, Karolina Brunius, et al. “Dog Owners’ Perspectives on Canine Dental Health-A Questionnaire Study in Sweden.” Frontiers, Frontiers In Veterinary Science, 9 June 2020, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2020.00298/full.
2“Tooth Be Told: What to Know about Gingivitis.” VMBS News, Texas A&M University: School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, 4 Feb. 2021, https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/pet-gingivitis/.
3Quest, Bradley W. “Oral Health Benefits of a Daily Dental Chew in Dogs.” Sage Journals, Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 1 June 2013, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/089875641303000203.
4Logan EI, Finney O, Hefferren JJ. Effects of a Dental Food on Plaque Accumulation and Gingival Health in Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry. 2002;19(1):15-18. doi:10.1177/089875640201900102