Can Plaque on a Dog's Teeth Form a Bacterial Infection in the Body?

by Amanda Fulmer
    Annual dental cleanings are recommended in small-breed dogs beginning at 1 year of age.

    Annual dental cleanings are recommended in small-breed dogs beginning at 1 year of age.

    Merlyn Severn/Valueline/Getty Images

    In dogs as in humans, poor tooth care fosters plaque formation, which can lead to the release of bacteria into the body. Bacteria can affect organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Studies performed by the American Veterinary Dental College show that most dogs have some degree of dental disease by as early as 3 years of age.

    The Development of Dental Disease

    The natural process of tooth decay begins with the formation of plaque on the teeth. Plaque forms from bacteria that coat the surface of the teeth. Dog saliva naturally interacts with the plaque and hardens it into tartar, which sticks to the teeth even better. The problem arises as these conditions go untreated and the tartar is allowed to reach below the gumline. Once this occurs, bacteria are able to invade deeper tissues, including the bone of the jaws. Once the bone has been breached, the bacteria can escape into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. Studies in dogs have shown that bacteria can have effects on multiple organs and potentially cause further infection.

    Symptoms

    One of the first signs of dental disease in your dog, and one that is usually easily noticed, is bad breath. Other symptoms may include excessive drooling, red or inflamed gums, and loose teeth. These symptoms often point to dental disease, though they can also be caused by other problems such as intestinal or kidney disease. Have your pup evaluated by your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs.

    Treatment

    If your dog is diagnosed with dental disease, your vet may recommend one of a number of steps for treatment. Depending on the extent of the condition, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to treat infection and prevent bacteria from spreading into other parts of the body. A dental cleaning is usually recommended to remove the plaque and tartar, and to allow the gums to heal. Some teeth may need to be pulled if they are loose or show severe signs of infection.

    Prevention

    Dental disease is such a prevalent problem in dogs that the American Animal Hospital Association has established specific guidelines for dental care. These guidelines include routine, thorough veterinary examinations of a dog’s mouth to identify potential problems early. Annual dental cleanings are recommended beginning at 1 year of age for small-breed dogs, who are more likely to develop dental disease, and at 2 years of age for large-breed dogs. Brushing your dog’s teeth at home plays a very important role in preventing dental disease and can decrease the number of dental cleanings required. Ask your veterinarian for tips on the best way to brush your dog’s teeth to help keep Fido’s pearly whites as healthy as possible.

    Photo Credits

    • Merlyn Severn/Valueline/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Amanda Fulmer is a veterinarian in Greenville, S.C. who earned specialty certification in medical oncology in 2008. She received a veterinary degree and advanced oncology training from Louisiana State University. Her scientific research has been published in several professional veterinary journals. She also lectures around the country on various topics in her field.

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