Disease associated with the structures around the tooth

Periodontal disease is commonly known as gum disease. In the initial stages only the gum is affected but , if left untreated, it will progress to involve other supporting structures of the tooth including the boney socket and ligament attaching the tooth to the bone.

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue caused by plaque accumulation on the tooth. Plaque is a sticky accumulation of bacteria, food and saliva that adheres to the tooth surface. Plaque is difficult to see (unless specifically stained) and accumulates rapidly after cleaning the teeth. The bacteria trigger local inflammation in the gums. This can be seen as a red line at the edge of the gum that will bleed easily. If plaque is removed, the inflammation will resolve, but left untreated, may progress to more severe disease. Once the other supporting structures become involved the condition is known as periodontitis, and is irreversible. This affects the attachment of the tooth and ultimately can lead to loss of the tooth.

Tartar (calculus) is mineralised plaque seen as hard brown accumulations on the tooth that can only be removed by professional means. It acts as a rough surface allowing plaque accumulation.


Early signs of gum disease include a red swollen gum margin that bleeds easily if touched. If there is more advanced attachment loss, loose teeth, gum recession, with root exposure, becomes visible."Doggy Breath" is usually associated with periodontal disease and should never be considered normal. Early professional diagnosis and treatment is important to help prevent progression and stabilise the condition.


Attachment loss cannot be determined until the gums and teeth are assessed under general anaesthesia. A periodontal probe is used to check the ligament attachment to the tooth and the surrounding bone is assessed using dental x-rays. Each tooth is checked in a systematic approach and all findings recorded on a dental chart. This is important for ongoing assessment and further planning.

The first stage in treating animals with periodontal disease is to remove tartar and plaque from the tooth surface (above and below the gum margin) before instituting home care. It is important to understand that periodontitis is irreversible and ongoing management will be required throughout your pet's life.


Remember that periodontal disease management is not just about sweet smelling breath but can have more serious local and systemic consequences. Studies have shown that advanced periodontal disease can lead to heart, liver, kidney and respiratory problems. Periodontitis can also complicate the management of diseases such as diabetes.

Locally, advanced periodontal disease can result in bone destruction and communication between the mouth and the nose (oro-nasal fistula), spontaneous jaw fractures and severe pain.

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