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When dogs experience dental pain — or any pain, for that matter — they can’t tell their pet parents that something’s wrong. Worse, dogs are very good at masking their discomfort, so their pet parents might not even be able to tell there’s an issue, at least not right away.
Dogs might do their best to avoid showing that they’re hurting, but they’ll often display subtle signs that something isn’t quite right, and pet parents should immediately address dental pain in dogs. Minor dental issues can quickly worsen, resulting in more severe problems down the line. Prompt treatment can restore a dog’s oral health, improving their overall well-being and quality of life.
A dog’s teeth are vital. In addition to enabling the biting and chewing of food, teeth allow a dog to grasp and hold items. They can even play a role in defense, if necessary.
Like humans, dogs have strong teeth. However, they aren’t indestructible. In fact, approximately 80% of dogs exhibit signs of dental disease by the time they’re three years old. Gum inflammation alone can cause severe discomfort, but other dogs have issues like tooth fractures, tooth infections, and oral tumors.
There are several causes of dental pain in dogs. Here are a few of the most common:
Like humans, dogs can develop plaque on their teeth. Eventually, it can even harden into tartar, a solid substance that can be nearly impossible for a pet parent to remove on their own.
Plaque and tartar can irritate the gums, causing them to become inflamed. Known as gingivitis, this is the first stage of gum disease. Over time, it can worsen, leading to gum recession. A dog may face tooth sensitivity, increased pain, loose teeth, infections, and more.
The acids that oral bacteria produce can wear away tooth enamel, increasing a dog’s risk of developing tooth decay and cavities. Eventually, a hole can wear into the enamel, increasing the risks of tooth sensitivity, infections, and severe discomfort.
A dog can crack or chip a tooth by gnawing on something hard (bone, antlers, etc.), eating dinner, experiencing dental/oral trauma, and more. These issues can leave the root of the affected tooth exposed, which can cause pain. They also leave a route open for oral bacteria, which can increase a dog’s risk of infection.
Puppies loose their puppy (deciduous) teeth and gain their permanent adult teeth. However, some puppies don’t lose one or more of those temporary teeth, which results in overcrowding. Crowded teeth push on one another, which can trigger pain. They can also increase the risk of plaque buildup, gum disease, and other dental issues.
An oral tumor is an abnormal growth in a dog’s mouth. Some grow slowly and don’t spread (benign). Others may grow and spread quickly, which often indicates cancer. Both kinds of tumors can cause significant pain.
Some breeds are more likely to develop dental issues than others. For instance, smaller breed puppies are more likely to develop overcrowding than their larger counterparts. Brachycephalic breeds like pugs, English bulldogs, and Shih Tzus are more likely to develop tartar buildup and dental issues, as are toy poodles, Chihuahuas, and Yorkies.
Dog dental pain will look different from one dog to the next, and it often varies based on the severity of the issue and the dog’s personality. Common symptoms include:
Disinterest in food
Changes in chewing patterns (chewing only on one side of the mouth)
Dropping food while eating
Excessive drooling (may have blood in the saliva)
Resistance or recoiling when a pet parent touches the dog’s face
Swelling near the eyes
Red, swollen gums
Treatment for dental pain in dogs varies based on the age of the affected dog. Generally, X-rays can help reveal the condition of the gums and the teeth below the gum line. In minor cases, a thorough professional cleaning may be enough. In more severe cases, a dog might need a root canal, tooth extraction, or even treatment from a professional vet that specializes in reconstruction.
Pet parents can help their dogs maintain optimal oral health at home with good dental hygiene. Regular brushing can help to eliminate plaque and bacterial buildup from the teeth.
Other ways of preventing dental issues — and, therefore, dental pain — include:
At the first signs of dog dental pain, a pet parent should contact their regular vet or an online vet for dog health advice. A thorough examination can help pet parents get to the root of the issue. This also ensures that the pet parent can get their dog the treatment they need, as well as recommendations for maintaining healthy dog teeth.
With good oral care, the risk of dental issues decreases, and dogs can live healthier lives.