Porphyromonas sounds like a mouthful to say — which is ironic, because this family of bacteria can cause a mouthful of problems for dogs. Porphyromonas is one of the primary bacteria involved in canine periodontitis — a component of periodontal disease. Fortunately, routine at-home dental care combined with regular veterinary dental checkups and periodic dental cleanings can help protect your dog’s pearly whites.


When a dog’s teeth are not properly cleaned or cared for on a regular basis, plaque and tarter can build up on the tooth surface and underneath the gumline. This material can irritate the gums, causing inflammation known as gingivitis. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to the development of periodontitis, which is the infection and inflammation of structures that support the teeth. Periodontal disease tends to include both gingivitis and periodontitis.

Porphyromonas is a family of bacteria that have been implicated in the development and progression of periodontitis in dogs. The bacteria subtypes are Porphyromonas gulae, Porphyromonas salivosa, and Porphyromonas denticani. These bacteria have been implicated in most cases of dogs with periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease damages the ligaments and other tissues that hold each tooth in its bony socket. It is a progressive and ongoing disease that, if not treated, can lead to pain, abscesses (pus-filled swellings), and tooth loss. Periodontal disease has also been linked to illness affecting the heart and kidneys.

Symptoms and Identification

Many people don’t consider “dog breath” to be a serious problem, but it is. Bad breath is one of the early signs of periodontal disease. Other signs can include the following:

  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Gum recession (pulling away from the crown of the tooth)
  • Pain while chewing
  • Drooling
  • Discolored teeth
  • Broken teeth
  • Tooth loss
Periodontal disease is a serious but sometimes overlooked health issue for dogs. This progressive, degenerative disease affects 85 percent of pets over 3 years old. The good news is that with routine at-home care (such as brushing), routine veterinary dental examinations, and periodic professional dental cleanings, your dog does not have to suffer with this problem.

Your veterinarian can see signs of gingivitis and tartar buildup by examining your dog’s mouth. However, since most periodontal disease occurs beneath the gumline, the only way to truly assess a dog’s mouth is to perform an examination while the pet is under anesthesia. Veterinarians can use a dental probe to measure any loss of attachment around each tooth and take dental radiographs (X-rays) to assess for bone loss, abscesses, and other problems.

Affected Breeds

Dogs of any breed can develop periodontal disease. Terrier and toy breeds may be more affected, due to crowding of teeth in their small mouths.

Treatment and Prevention

The best way to prevent periodontal disease is to follow your veterinarian’s recommendation for regular dental examinations and cleanings. As pets age, or if your dog is particularly prone to dental problems, examinations and cleanings may be recommended more frequently.

A routine visual dental examination can be performed during a wellness visit. However, a full dental evaluation requires sedation or anesthesia. During a thorough examination, your pet’s mouth and teeth are carefully examined. Dental instruments are used to detect gaps or pockets around the teeth. Full-mouth X-rays may be recommended, as many dental problems can lie hidden below the surface of the gums.

Your veterinarian may recommend a teeth cleaning, which includes using dental instruments to clean the teeth and the area below the gumline. Broken, damaged, or loose teeth can sometimes be restored, but in some cases, your veterinarian may recommend removal.

To be most effective, dental examinations and cleanings should be paired with a regular home toothbrushing program. 

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.