Do Older Dogs Teeth Hurt?

As dogs age, their teeth go through normal wear and tear just like humans. Senior dogs can develop a range of dental problems that may cause discomfort or pain. This article explores the key questions around older dogs and dental health: Do older dogs’ teeth hurt? What are the common dental issues in senior dogs? What are the signs that indicate a dog is having tooth pain? What causes toothaches in older dogs? How does dental disease affect a dog’s health? How are dental problems diagnosed and treated in senior dogs? And how can dental disease be prevented in aging dogs?

Normal Aging Changes

As dogs age, their teeth go through normal wear and mineralization changes. According to the APHIS guide, puppies have 28 deciduous “baby” teeth that erupt between 3-6 weeks of age. Between 4-6 months old, these deciduous teeth are replaced by 42 permanent adult teeth. The adult teeth continue to develop mineralization until around 9 months old.

Through normal use and aging, the tips of the teeth become worn down and the teeth may show signs of mineralization such as tartar buildup or staining. The teeth may become flatter, more rounded, and show increased spacing between them. The Embarkvet guide says that dog teeth are typically less pointed after about 5-6 years of age. These natural aging changes are normal for older dogs.

Common Dental Problems

Some of the most common dental problems seen in older dogs include periodontal disease, tooth fractures, tooth loss, abscesses, and tumors. Periodontal disease is inflammation and infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth and is caused by plaque and tartar buildup over time. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, periodontal disease affects over 80% of dogs by age 3. Left untreated, periodontal disease can cause severe pain, tooth loss, and potentially spread infection to other parts of the body.

Tooth fractures are also common in senior dogs, usually due to trauma from chewing on hard objects. The pulp canal can become exposed, allowing bacteria to infect the root. Abscesses may form, causing acute pain. Tumors of the mouth, jaws, and surrounding tissues are seen in 6% of dogs, especially malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Early detection and treatment is key for the best prognosis.

Tooth loss occurs naturally but may be accelerated with dental issues. Loose or lost teeth can affect chewing and allow problem bacteria to enter the bloodstream. According to Wag Walking, the most common causes of dental problems in senior dogs are plaque, tartar, and poor dental hygiene.

Signs of Dental Pain

There are several signs that may indicate your older dog is experiencing dental pain or discomfort in their mouth. One of the most common is reduced appetite. Your dog may seem less interested in eating or only chew on one side of their mouth where they are not experiencing pain. Increased drooling is another potential symptom, as your dog may drool excessively due to mouth irritation or difficulty swallowing. You may also notice behavioral changes, such as irritability, restlessness, or even aggression when you touch their mouth or head. Your dog may act withdrawn, depressed, or lethargic as well.

Pay attention to any sudden changes, like a normally eager eater becoming disinterested in food or a usually energetic dog becoming more subdued. Difficulty eating hard food or yelping when their mouth is touched can also be signs of oral pain. Sniffing or pawing at the mouth and increased chewing or licking of the lips are other possible indicators. Ongoing close observation of your dog’s appetite, behavior and oral health will help you determine if dental pain could be an issue.

Causes of Tooth Pain

There are several common causes of tooth pain in older dogs:

Gum recession exposes the root of the tooth, making it sensitive and painful. Gum recession is common in older dogs as their gums naturally recede with age (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Dental cavities can form in dogs, especially if they have poor dental care. Cavities are holes in the tooth caused by decay that allows bacteria to enter the center of the tooth, causing inflammation and pain (WagWalking).

Abscesses form when bacteria gets trapped under the gums and causes a painful infection. Abscesses show up as swollen bumps on the gums and cause bad breath, drooling, and tooth pain (Wedgewood Pharmacy).

Periodontal disease, an advanced form of gum disease, can cause severe inflammation, receding gums, bone loss, and extreme pain (WagWalking). Older dogs are at higher risk as plaque and tartar build up over their lifetime.

Effects on Health

Dental disease can have widespread effects on a dog’s overall health and wellbeing. According to VCA Hospitals, periodontal disease is linked to damage in major organs like the heart, liver and kidneys. Bacteria from dental infections can enter the bloodstream and travel to these organs, causing inflammation and dysfunction. Dogs with severe periodontal disease are at higher risk for endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves. They are also more prone to liver and kidney disease.

As explained by PetMD, the bacteria from gum disease can cause systemic inflammation that stresses the immune system. This constant inflammation takes a toll on the body over time. Dogs with dental infections may experience reduced appetite, weight loss, lethargy and other signs of chronic disease. Overall, poor dental health can lower a dog’s quality of life and lead to potentially serious medical issues.

Since dental disease impacts more than just the mouth, it’s critical to diagnose and treat it promptly. Regular dental cleanings and exams allow vets to catch problems early before they affect overall wellbeing. With proper prevention and care, many dogs can avoid the damaging effects of advanced dental disease.


Veterinarians have several methods to assess a dog’s dental health and determine if dental pain is present. A routine oral exam allows the vet to visually inspect the teeth, gums, and oral cavity for signs of disease. They look for buildup of plaque and tartar, gingivitis, loose or infected teeth, masses or swellings, and other abnormalities. Gentle manipulation of the jaws and palpation of the temporomandibular joints helps identify pain or dysfunction.

Additional diagnostic tools veterinarians may use include dental x-rays, which reveal problems below the gumline like tooth decay and root infections. Probing the space between the teeth and gums with a periodontal probe measures gum recession and pocket depth, which indicate periodontal disease. Vets also perform pulp vitality testing to check nerve health inside teeth. Oral cytology samples look for abnormal cells. Lastly, advanced imaging such as CT scans provide detailed views of complex conditions.

These thorough examinations allow vets to pinpoint sources of dental discomfort and disease. They can then recommend appropriate treatment to alleviate pain and improve long-term oral health.



The most common treatments for dental pain in older dogs are dental cleanings, tooth extractions, antibiotics, and pain medications. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the only effective long-term treatment is addressing the underlying dental disease.

A professional dental cleaning allows the veterinarian to assess the health of the teeth, gums, and roots under the gums. From there, they can determine if any damaged or infected teeth need to be extracted. Cleaning the teeth thoroughly will remove built-up tartar and plaque that can be causing inflammation and infection.

Extracting severely damaged or infected teeth is often necessary to relieve pain and prevent further dental disease. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to treat or prevent infection after dental surgery.

According to WellPets, pain medications are typically given before and after dental procedures to keep the dog comfortable. Common medications include opioids, anti-inflammatories, and local anesthetics.

While professional dental care is ideal, some owners try home remedies for minor tooth pain, such as rinsing with salt water. However, these do not treat the underlying cause. Veterinary assessment and treatment is recommended for sustained relief.


There are several things you can do to help prevent dental disease and maintain your older dog’s oral health:

Brush your dog’s teeth daily or several times a week using a soft brush and dog-safe toothpaste. Focus on the outer surfaces of the teeth and avoid going too far back in the mouth. Introduce tooth brushing slowly with rewards to help your dog accept it. Regular brushing helps remove plaque and tartar buildup (source).

Provide dental chews or treats designed to clean teeth and freshen breath. Look for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) like Greenies dental chews. Chews help scrub the teeth to reduce tartar (source).

Choose dog food formulated to improve oral health. Some kibble is designed to mechanically scrub teeth as the dog chews. You can also add an oral care additive to their water.

Schedule regular vet dental cleanings as recommended, usually once a year. Professional cleanings remove built-up tartar and plaque the best.

Monitor your dog’s mouth for signs of dental problems and take them to the vet if you notice red inflamed gums, loose teeth, or bad breath.


As dogs age, their teeth and gums go through normal changes but can also develop painful problems. It’s important for pet owners to regularly check their older dog’s mouth for signs of dental disease like reddened gums, yellow-brown tartar buildup, loose or missing teeth, or bad breath. If you notice your senior dog exhibiting symptoms like reduced appetite, reluctance to chew, increased drooling or pawing at the mouth, see your vet right away. Untreated dental pain and infection can lead to serious health issues. Keeping up with professional cleanings, brushing at home, dental treats, and regular exams will go a long way in protecting your dog’s oral health and comfort.

Caring for your aging dog’s teeth is essential to their wellbeing. By staying informed and proactive, you can help ensure your senior dog’s golden years are as happy and comfortable as possible.

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