Too Much Gum for the Teeth

A (fixable) condition that can cause pain and even tooth loss.


Even if you have been providing proper oral care for your dog, you cant prevent gingival hyperplasia, an overgrowth of the gums surrounding the teeth that affects some of our canine friends. While the abnormal proliferation of gum tissue is not cancerous, it can prove painful, particularly when a dog eats. And it can lead to periodontal, or gum, disease. Specifically, it causes deep pockets to form between the surface of the teeth and the surrounding gums, which in turn allows plaque and tartar to build and can lead to infection, loosened teeth, and if it goes far enough, teeth falling out.

Sometimes gingival hyperplasia is an inherited condition, particularly in boxers, but it can also be seen in bulldogs, collies, Great Danes, Dalmatians, and Doberman pinschers. Anti-seizure medications and calcium channel blockers, used to treat heart failure, may also make some dogs more susceptible to developing the condition.

Unfortunately, its not always easy to tell your dog has it. Similar to so many other diseases of dogs, it is often up to people to spot the problem, as dogs are too often stoic even in the face of pain every time they chew, says William Rosenblad, DVM, head of the Dentistry Department at Bostons Angell Animal Medical Center. I have had many dogs come in due to oral bleeding and visible gum proliferation. That is, the disease can be far along by the time its recognized that something is wrong.

Overgrowth may be restricted to a particular area but is at least as likely to occur throughout the mouth. The most extreme cases are easy to diagnose due to the covering of teeth in gums, but there may be a more subtle growth as well. The surface of the gums, too, may have a variety of textures, from smooth to rough or even with clusters. Dr. Rosenblad notes that some oral tumors can be hidden in a mouth full of gingival hyperplasia, so veterinarians should take dental radiographs and consider biopsies if some gingival growth doesnt look like the rest of the hyperplastic gingiva.

The solution is surgical removal in a procedure known as gingivectomy. Fortunately, it is not complicated. The veterinarian uses a scalpel, laser, or electro-cautery to remove the proliferative tissue. (The heat in electro-cautery helps limit bleeding as the gingival tissue is taken out.) Removal is the only way to address most gingival hyperplasia, says Dr. Rosenblad. But it does not necessarily solve the problem forever. It may recur at a later time. If it happens because of medications, cessation of administration of the drugs usually stops the proliferation going forward but wont reverse it. Removal is once again required. If removal does not happen soon enough, the condition may proceed to the point that tooth extraction becomes required.

The good news is that in most cases, dogs show increased eating and activity after the gingivectomy, says Dr. Rosenblad. In addition to noticing these improvements in their dogs post-operatively, owners often also appreciate decreased halitosis, or bad breath, and more normal-looking teeth.


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