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Plaque In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes And Types

Plaque In Dogs

Dental plaque is a soft whitish or yellowish sticky film that forms on the surface of teeth within a few hours after a meal.

The sticky plaque forms on the teeth to protect the enamel from the wear that acidic substances in the food can cause.

Within 24 hours, plaque begins to solidify with the salts (calcium and phosphate ions) found naturally in your dog’s saliva. The accumulated plaque continues to mineralize and ultimately transforms into tartar. Tartar (also called calculus) is a rough, porous plaque that looks like a crusty blanket. The hard calcified deposits usually build up between the teeth and in the groove where the gum meets the teeth (above and below the gum line).

More than 75% of dogs have some sort of dental disease by the time they are three years old. Plaque overstays its welcome and can harden into tartar within 36 hours. Tartar buildup can lead to periodontal disease, causing infection, inflammation (gingivitis), sensitivity, pain, and even loss of teeth.

Always set up a dental cleaning routine for your dog regularly as it is critical to preventing the buildup of plaque and tartar.

Symptoms Of Plaque

  • Bad breath (halitosis).
  • Bleeding gums
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty or pain with chewing.
  • Pus/mucous along the gum line, in nasal discharge.
  • Lethargy

Treatment Options For Plaque

  • The dental cleaning procedure includes a complete dental examination, after that a dental scaling using traditional hand scalers and ultrasonic cleaning equipment to scrape off the plaque and tartar from the surfaces of the tooth. Cleaning under anesthesia is recommended to be done twice a year.
  • Gingival curettage is the removal of infected, inflamed, necrotic, or damaged tissue from the periodontal pocket.
  • Application of antibiotic medications to resolve gum infections.

Home Remedies For Plaque

With gentleness and patience, always provide the required oral care your dog needs to prevent dental diseases.

Don’t skip routine dental checkups and Consult with your vet for guidance on teeth brushing tips.

Prevention Of Plaque

  1. The simple way to prevent plaque/tartar accumulation is by brushing the tooth using pet-safe enzymatic toothpaste that is specially formulated for dogs at least 2-4 times each week.
  2. Dental wipes, chew toys for dogs, treats or oral rinses may also help decrease or delay plaque/tartar by reducing the build-up of saliva, food, and bacteria on the surface of the teeth and gums.
  3. Some exclusively formulated pet foods are used as dental diets with proven tartar-reducing ingredients. Water additives interfere with plaque development.
  4. Confirm with the Veterinary Oral Health Council website for products listed for plaque control to reduce the accumulation of plaque and/or tartar.

Affected Breeds Of Plaque

Maltese, Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, Pomeranian, Lhasa Apso, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Shih Tzu

Additional Facts For Plaque

  1. Causes:
  • Plaque forms in a structured way and has a functionally-organized, species-rich microbial community that is relatively stable over time (termed microbial homeostasis).
  • The main species from healthy sites are different from those found in diseased sites and even at healthy sites, putative pathogens can often be detected in low numbers.
  • The dominant bacterial species in dental plaque are Fusobacteriumcanifelinum and Porphyromonas crevioricanis.
  • The most common genus belongs to Porphyromonas, Fusobacterium, and Capnocytophaga.
  1. Types:

To determine the severity of periodontal disease in dogs, Vets have a separate grading scale.

The scale ranges from 0 to 4:

  • Stage 0: Gums are pink and flat, and teeth are clean.
  • Stage 1: Subtle signs, inflammation of the gums (Gingivitis) - alveolar margins appear normal, No attachment loss to teeth supporting structures.
  • Stage 2: Starting stage periodontitis - < 25% of the tooth’s attachment to the supporting structures is lost (measured by Dental x-rays or clinical probing).
  • Stage 3: Intermediate periodontitis - 25% -50% of the tooth’s attachment to supporting structures is lost.
  • Stage 4: Advanced periodontitis - > 50% tooth support is lost.
  1. Morbidity:
  • Whenever a Dog consumes its food, the chewing process (breakdown of carbohydrates) leaves behind the sticky substance known as dental plaque.
  • This colorless pale yellow deposit of biofilm changes from a gummy texture to a harder consistency within 24 hours of consumption of the meal.
  • Dental plaque is an active, complex biofilm of the extremely heterogeneous and poly-microbial community (interactive microenvironment) that grow in a mass of exopolysaccharides called plaque matrix.
  • In its starting stages, the plaque is mostly organic and it is made up of bacteria, mineral salts, organic matter, food particles, and serum. The precipitation of calcium phosphate salts within the organic matrix adheres to the teeth, gets harder, and calcified.
  • When the dental plaque hardens, tartar is formed just at or above the gum margins (supragingival) and forms below the gum line on the surfaces of the tooth root (subgingival). Tartar (dental calculus) is inorganic (70–80%) and primarily consists of calcium and phosphorus with minor components of sodium, carbonate, magnesium, fluoride, iron, and silicon.
  • Dental calculus will appear as a brownish or yellow discoloration on the teeth, usually described based on its location - supragingival and Subgingival calculus.
  • The discoloration on the teeth of your pet will be noticed at this point and if you notice, you should seek immediate veterinary intervention to avoid the painful situation later on.

Dental Plaque vs Biofilm:

Biofilms: Biofilms are an assemblage of different types of microbes that are irreversibly enclosed in a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) matrix. Ex., bacteria, protists, and fungi.

Plaque: This is an archetypical dental biofilm attached to the subgingival or supragingival surface of a tooth and has a diverse microbial composition that remains quite stable over a time period (microbial homeostasis).

  1. Mortality:

There is no mortality associated with dental plaques documented yet.

  1. Diagnosis:
  • Routine Dental Exam
  • Dental X-rays
  1. Prognosis:

Dogs with Stage 1 and Stage 2 periodontal disease prognoses are good as long as they receive the appropriate dental care. Also, the prognosis of Stage 3 dogs are fair when advanced dental procedures are performed. In Stage 4 of periodontal disease, the prognosis is poor when greater than 50% of the tooth’s attachments are lost.

When To See A Vet

Time to visit the vet clinic for an examination, if you notice any of the following:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Bleeding / Red or swollen gums

Food Suggestions For Plaque

Best foods for your dog teeth:

  • Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
  • Foods with fluoride including dehydrated soups.
  • Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, and other dairy products.
  • Bones (raw, not cooked), cooked chicken giblets (hearts, liver, gizzards).
  • Dental diet-approved kibble and treats.

Foods to avoid:

  • Starchy foods can get stuck in the mouth.
  • Chewy, sticky, and hard candy.
  • Crackers, Popcorn
  • Rice and potato-based dental sticks.


The prevention of dental plaque accumulation should be given top priority because it can lead to gum and periodontal disease. They not only affect the oral health of dogs but the infection may be transported through the bloodstream to all parts of the body and can cause other systemic problems.

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