Can Rotten Teeth In Dogs Make Them Sick?

Dental disease is extremely common in dogs, with over 80% of dogs over 3 years old affected to some degree.1 Left untreated, this painful condition can lead to systemic health issues and decreased quality of life. Good regular dental care is essential for our canine companions. This article explores the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of dental disease in dogs, so you can keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy.

Overview of Dental Health in Dogs

Dogs can face a variety of dental health issues. Some of the most common include:

Periodontal Disease – This occurs when plaque builds up on the teeth. Plaque contains bacteria that can infect the gums and damage the tissues and bone that support the teeth. Left untreated, periodontal disease can cause tooth loss.[1]

Tooth Fractures – Dogs can fracture their teeth through chewing on hard objects or trauma. The pulp cavity may become exposed, allowing bacteria to infect the root.[2]

Tooth Decay – Although less common than in humans, tooth decay does occur in dogs, especially around the gum line. It develops from plaque acids eroding tooth enamel.[3]

Retained Deciduous Teeth – Sometimes a puppy tooth fails to fall out and the permanent adult tooth erupts in the wrong place or gets impacted. This can lead to malocclusion and oral pain.

Oral Tumors – Both malignant and benign tumors can develop in a dog’s mouth, causing deformity, tooth loss, and difficulty eating.



Causes and Risk Factors

There are several factors that can increase a dog’s risk of developing rotten or infected teeth and periodontal disease:

Poor dental care – Lack of regular teeth brushing, dental cleanings, and oral exams by a veterinarian can allow plaque and tartar to accumulate on the teeth over time. Plaque harbors bacteria which causes infection and erosion of the gums and tooth structures.

Genetics – Some breeds are predisposed to dental issues and gum infections. Smaller dogs with crowded teeth or certain skull shapes may be at higher risk. Labrador retrievers, poodles, cocker spaniels and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds tend to have more dental problems.

Diet – Feeding dry kibble can help clean teeth somewhat through chewing action. However, soft, wet, or sugary foods allow plaque to adhere more readily. Table scraps and unhealthy treats should be avoided.

Other factors like age, trauma to the mouth, and certain illnesses can also impact oral health. Puppies under 6 months may still be developing some permanent teeth. Older dogs are more prone to periodontal disease as plaque accumulates over many years.

According to the American Veterinary Dental College, at age 3 over 80% of dogs show signs of gum disease. Regular dental care throughout a dog’s life is important to reduce rot and infection.


Signs and Symptoms

Some common signs and symptoms of dental disease in dogs include:

  • Bad breath – This is one of the earliest and most noticeable symptoms. The breath of dogs with dental disease often smells unpleasant.
  • Excessive drooling – Dogs may drool more than usual due to mouth pain or difficulty swallowing.
  • Loose or missing teeth – Advanced dental disease can cause teeth to become loose and eventually fall out.
  • Red or swollen gums – Inflammation in the gums is called gingivitis and is often the first stage of periodontal disease.
  • Bleeding gums – Inflamed gums may bleed easily, especially when eating or having teeth brushed.
  • Discolored teeth – Over time, plaque and tartar can discolor a dog’s teeth yellow or brown.
  • Difficulty eating or chewing – Dental pain and loose teeth make it hard for dogs to pick up food and chew properly.
  • Loss of appetite – Dogs may lose interest in food due to dental discomfort.

According to veterinarians, bad breath and excess drooling are some of the earliest signs an owner may notice. Red, swollen, or bleeding gums indicate gingivitis. Loose or discolored teeth signify advanced periodontal disease.1 Getting veterinary attention as soon as these symptoms appear is important to treat dental disease before it progresses further.

Potential Consequences

Neglected dental disease in dogs can lead to a number of serious health issues. According to PetMD, some of the most common potential consequences include:

Pain – Advanced dental disease is often very painful for dogs. The infection and inflammation in their mouth can make eating, drinking, and even breathing very uncomfortable. Dogs may show signs of dental pain such as reduced appetite, reluctance to chew, pawing at their mouth, and aggression.

Tooth Loss – Severe dental disease will eventually cause tooth loss if not treated. Tooth roots become damaged and teeth can fall out or need to be extracted by a veterinarian. Missing teeth impair a dog’s ability to chew and can lead to nutritional issues.

Infections – Bacteria from dental infections can spread through the bloodstream and affect other organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys. This is especially dangerous in older dogs or those with compromised immune systems.

Problems Eating – Advanced dental disease makes it painful for dogs to chew their food properly. They may start preferring soft food or dropping pieces of kibble from their mouth. Poor nutrition contributes to poorer overall health.

Systemic Effects

Neglected dental disease in dogs can lead to a number of serious systemic effects throughout the body. Bacteria and infection from rotten teeth and inflamed gums can spread through the bloodstream, leading to damage in major organs. According to PetMD, studies show at least a 20% increased risk for heart disease in dogs with severe periodontitis. The bacteria releases toxins that cause inflammation, which can have effects in the heart valves, arteries, and general function of the heart muscle. [1]

The liver is another major organ at risk. Dental infections release bacteria into the bloodstream which can settle in the liver, causing inflammation and reduced liver function over time. This also creates stress on the kidneys as they work to filter out the bacteria. According to VCA Hospitals, the liver and kidneys are especially prone to developing secondary inflammation and disease as a result of untreated dental infections. [2]

In advanced stages, the chronic inflammation and reduction in organ function can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart failure, kidney disease, and liver failure. Keeping up with dental cleanings and treating dental disease early is crucial to reduce systemic effects on your dog’s major organs.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If a dog is showing signs of dental disease, the first step is to take them to the veterinarian for an examination. The vet will perform a comprehensive oral exam, looking for evidence of plaque, tartar, gum inflammation, loose or fractured teeth, and oral tumors. Dental x-rays are often recommended to evaluate the health of the tooth roots below the gumline as well as screen for cysts or abscesses. Without dental radiographs, infections and bone loss under the gums may go undetected.

The most effective treatment for periodontal disease is a professional veterinary dental cleaning. This involves putting the dog under general anesthesia so their teeth can be scaled and polished above and below the gumline to remove all plaque and tartar. Any damaged or infected teeth may require extractions. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to treat or prevent infection. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, antibiotics can help minimize bacteria released into the bloodstream during dental procedures in pets with advanced dental disease.

Without professional dental cleanings, plaque and tartar will continue to build up leading to worsening dental disease. Owners can help prevent plaque buildup at home through daily tooth brushing, oral rinses, and dental treats or chews. But these do not replace the need for periodic professional cleanings and oral exams to monitor dental health.


There are several ways pet owners can help prevent dental disease in dogs. The most important is regular at-home brushing, ideally once per day. Gently brushing a dog’s teeth daily with a soft bristle toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste is the most effective method for removing plaque and preventing periodontal disease.

In addition to brushing, dental chews can also help combat plaque buildup between teeth. Products like Greenies and Whimzees are specially formulated to scrape away tartar as the dog chews, providing a similar mechanical cleaning action as brushing. These chews should be given as recommended by your veterinarian.

Yearly dental cleanings and checkups by your veterinarian are also crucial. Professional cleanings allow the vet to scale away tartar, take x-rays, and conduct a thorough inspection for signs of infection or tooth damage that may require treatment. Early detection and care can stop dental disease from progressing to more severe stages.

With diligent at-home oral care and regular vet visits, owners have the power to greatly improve their dog’s dental health and prevent many of the consequences associated with unchecked dental disease.

Outlook and Prognosis

With early diagnosis and proper treatment, dogs with dental disease generally have a good prognosis. If the condition is caught before major damage occurs, proper dental cleaning, extraction of damaged teeth, and antibiotics can often resolve the problem.

However, without treatment, the outlook is far more concerning. Dental disease tends to worsen over time if left untreated. Severe dental infections can spread to other parts of the body, leading to kidney, liver, heart and lung damage. Dogs with advanced untreated dental disease are also at higher risk for other health complications.

That’s why it’s so important to have a veterinarian examine your dog’s teeth regularly and address any potential issues before they progress. With prompt treatment, most dogs go on to make a full recovery and live a happy, healthy life. But without treatment, dental disease can shorten a dog’s lifespan and negatively impact their quality of life.


Poor dental health can have serious consequences for dogs. Rotten teeth are extremely painful and can lead to systemic illness. Regular brushing, dental cleanings, dental exams, and limiting sugary treats are essential to protect your dog’s oral health. Untreated dental disease can negatively impact your dog’s quality of life. Early intervention is key to managing dental problems before they progress. With proper preventative care and treatment when necessary, dogs can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

The bottom line is – dental care is a vital component of overall wellness for dogs. Don’t overlook your dog’s oral health. Schedule regular veterinary dental checkups, follow your vet’s recommendations, and be diligent about at-home dental care. With some effort from pet parents, dogs’ teeth can stay strong and healthy for years to come.

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