Just as with humans, tartar or calculus forms on a dog’s teeth when plaque – a combination of salivary proteins and bacteria – accumulates on the teeth and is not brushed or mechanically scraped away by vigorous chewing. And just as with humans, some dogs seem more prone to tartar accumulation than others. Some of this may be due to an inherited trait; it’s also thought that the chemistry in some dogs’ saliva seems to promote tartar formation.
Soon, the gums become inflamed by the plaque, and bacterial infections may develop. Yes, the dog will have bad breath and unsightly red gums. He may experience pain when he’s eating his food, playing with toys, or during recreational chewing. Chronic mouth pain can cause behavioral changes, including crankiness and sudden onset of “bad moods.”
When plaque deposits begin to form in proximity to and then, gradually, under the dog’s
gums, the immuno-inflammatory response begins to cause destruction of the structures
that hold the dog’s teeth in place: the cementum (the calcified tissue that covers the root
surfaces), periodontal ligament (connective tissue that helps anchor the teeth), and alveolar bone (the bone that surrounds the roots of the teeth). As these structures are damaged in the inflammatory response “crossfire,” the teeth can become loose and even fall out.
A more serious danger is the bacterial infection and resultant inflammation in the gums, which can send bacteria through the dog’s bloodstream, where it can wreak havoc with the heart, lungs, kidney, and liver. Damage to these organs caused by infection can shorten the lives of our pets.