Is There Something Wrong With My Dogs Teeth?

Signs of Dental Problems in Dogs

Some of the most common signs that may indicate your dog is experiencing a dental health issue include:

Red or Swollen Gums – Inflamed gums may appear puffy or bright red. This can signify gingivitis or periodontal disease.

Bad Breath – Persistent bad breath is not normal and usually signals a buildup of bacteria.

Discolored or Broken Teeth – Yellow, brown, or cracked teeth often indicate decay or trauma.

Changes or Difficulties Eating – Your dog may drop food, chew only on one side, or seem reluctant to eat hard food. This suggests mouth pain or discomfort.

Pawing at the Mouth – Repeated pawing at the mouth may indicate tooth pain, discomfort, or a foreign object lodged in the mouth.

Excessive Drooling – Increased drooling can be a sign of mouth irritation, infection, or dental injury.

Stay alert for any of these symptoms in your dog. Consult your veterinarian promptly if you notice persistent or concerning dental issues.

Causes of Dental Issues

Some of the most common causes of dental issues in dogs include:

Plaque Buildup: Plaque is a sticky film that contains bacteria. It builds up on a dog’s teeth every day and turns into tartar if not removed through brushing. Tartar leads to gingivitis (gum inflammation) and eventually periodontal disease (

Periodontal Disease: This is an infection of the gums and teeth. It can become quite severe, damaging the tissue and bone that support the teeth (

Injury: Dogs can fracture teeth from aggressive chewing of hard objects or trauma like a car accident. The pulp cavity can become exposed, allowing bacteria to infect the root (–dental-disease-dogs).

Genetics: Some breeds are prone to misaligned bites, missing teeth, or weak enamel. Issues like overcrowding can increase plaque buildup.

Age: Senior dogs are more likely to develop periodontal disease, tooth fractures, and abscessed teeth. Gums may recede, exposing the tooth roots.

Potential Health Complications

Poor dental health in dogs can lead to a number of concerning health issues if left untreated. Dental disease often starts with plaque buildup on the teeth, which then leads to infection and inflammation of the gums known as gingivitis. If gingivitis persists, it can advance to periodontitis, resulting in bone and tooth loss.

These oral infections allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream, potentially spreading to major organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. According to PetMD, periodontal disease has been linked to endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart’s inner lining, as well as kidney and liver disease in dogs.

Specifically, advanced dental disease can allow bacteria into the bloodstream that damages the kidneys and liver. Toxins released by plaque bacteria can also create inflammation in these organs. One study cited by Pet Medical Center found a strong correlation between severe periodontal disease and chronic kidney disease in dogs.

In summary, poor dental care allows oral bacteria to spread, potentially leading to infection, inflammation and even organ damage in vital systems like the heart, kidneys and liver. Regular dental care and prompt treatment is essential for protecting dogs against these serious health complications.

When to See the Vet

You should take your dog to the vet if you notice signs of dental problems like visible tooth decay, gum inflammation, facial swelling, changes in appetite or behavior, or loose teeth. According to GreenDog Dental, by the time pet owners identify dental issues, it’s likely time to see the vet. Some specific signs that indicate an urgent vet visit:

  • Broken or damaged teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Bad breath that doesn’t resolve with brushing
  • Loose or shifting teeth
  • Difficulty eating or loss of appetite
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Facial swelling around mouth, eyes, or nose
  • Changes in behavior like aggression or lethargy

Allowing dental problems to persist can lead to oral pain, tooth loss, bone damage, and potentially serious health issues. Don’t delay – schedule a veterinary dental exam as soon as you notice signs of trouble.

Preventive Care

There are several things you can do at home to help prevent dental problems in dogs:

Daily tooth brushing is the most effective way to remove plaque and tartar buildup. Use a soft-bristled brush and dog-safe toothpaste. Take it slow at first so your dog gets used to the process. Brushing just 30 seconds a day can make a difference. See this guide for how to brush properly: 5 Ways to Prevent Dental Disease in Your Dog

Dental chews and treats can also help scrape away plaque. Look for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. Give chews that are appropriately sized for your dog under supervision. Hard rubber chew toys are another option.

Take your dog to the vet for annual dental cleanings and exams. Professional cleanings get deep below the gumline to tartar you can’t remove at home. The vet will also check for signs of decay or other dental issues.

Professional Cleanings

Professional dental cleanings performed by a veterinarian are an important part of preventive care for dogs. During a professional cleaning, the veterinarian will perform a thorough examination of the teeth and gums, looking for signs of disease. They will then use specialized tools to scrape away the accumulated tartar and plaque above and below the gumline (src:

The tartar is removed using an ultrasonic scaler and the teeth are polished using a polishing paste and rubber cup. Any periodontal pockets around the teeth will be probed and treated. Fluoride may be applied to strengthen enamel. If any teeth are severely diseased they may need to be extracted (src:

The risks associated with professional cleanings are low but include reactions to anesthesia and damage to teeth. Most dogs recover quickly after the procedure. Costs range from $200-$800 depending on the dog’s size and health of the teeth/gums.

When Extractions Are Needed

Extractions may be advised for severely damaged teeth like those fractured below the gum line.
Extractions are also recommended for addressing advanced periodontal disease when deep pockets are present between the teeth and gums along with significant bone loss

Certain medical conditions that compromise the immune system like kidney disease and diabetes can accelerate dental disease progression, making extractions necessary sooner than they otherwise would be.
Overall health, age, and anesthetic risks are considered when extraction is being weighed as an option

The Extraction Procedure

Extraction is performed under general anesthesia. Teeth are removed as gently as possible to minimize trauma to the surrounding bone.
The veterinarian will close any resulting holes in the gum tissue with sutures that may need to stay in place for up to 2 weeks

Aftercare and Recovery

Soreness, swelling, and mild bleeding may occur for a few days after extractions. Ice packs applied to the outside of the jaw can help reduce swelling.
The dog should only eat soft food for 7-10 days. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection. Stitches are removed after 1-2 weeks.
With proper aftercare, there is typically rapid healing and improvements in comfort and oral health.

Home Dental Care

One of the best ways to care for your dog’s teeth at home is by brushing them regularly. According to the AKC, you should aim to brush your dog’s teeth 2-3 times per week, though daily brushing is ideal if your dog is receptive to it (source). Proper brushing technique involves:

  • Getting your dog comfortable with having their mouth handled and teeth touched first before introducing the toothbrush
  • Using a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for dogs or a finger brush
  • Applying a dog-safe toothpaste (do not use human toothpaste)
  • Gently brushing in circular motions along the gumline and surfaces of the teeth

There are specialized dog toothbrushes in sizes for small, medium, and large breeds. Finger toothbrushes allow you to simply place it over your finger for brushing. Dog toothpastes contain enzymes and ingredients to reduce plaque and tartar, with flavors like poultry and beef to entice dogs. Using toothpaste formulated for dogs is important, as human toothpaste contains ingredients like fluoride that can make dogs sick if ingested.

Diet and Chews for Better Oral Health

A good dental care regimen often starts with providing dogs the right food and chews. Crunchy kibble and treats can help scrape away tartar as dogs chew.

Look for dog foods that feature ingredients known to benefit oral health, like added enzymes or dental defense systems containing delmopinol. Some brands manufacture kibble and treats into specific dental shapes and textures to target plaque and tartar.

Dental diet dog foods from reputable brands like Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d and Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets DH Dental Health Dry Dog Food provide the complete nutrition dogs need, along with dental benefits.

In addition to dental diet dog food, giving your dog specially formulated dental chews 2-3 times per week provides even more plaque-fighting action. Veterinarians recommend chews containing delmopinol, an anti-plaque agent. Look for reputable brands like Greenies Dental Dog Treats and Pedigree Dentastix.

Other popular chewing options include bully sticks, antlers, cow hooves, and rubber toys. Make sure to supervise dogs chewing on bones, hooves or antlers to prevent choking hazards or digestive issues. Avoid cooked bones that can splinter.

Vary the textures and flavors of chews you provide. Use dental chews in rotation and don’t rely on one chew or treat to do all the work. Combining dental diet food, chews, and toys gives a well-rounded approach to caring for your dog’s teeth.

When to Seek Emergency Care

In some cases, dental issues in dogs can become emergencies requiring immediate veterinary care. Facial swelling, pawing at the mouth, loss of appetite, and lethargy after dental trauma are all signs that emergency care is needed.

Significant facial swelling around the mouth or eyes indicates a rapidly spreading infection that needs urgent treatment. According to the Veterinary Emergency Group, sudden and severe swelling is an emergency that requires swift intervention to prevent life-threatening complications (

Likewise, if your dog is pawing at its mouth, unwilling to eat, or seems lethargic after a dental injury like a fractured tooth, an abscess, or laceration, emergency dental care should be sought immediately. The Ethos Veterinary Health blog advises that trauma involving oral bleeding, visible wounds, or behavior changes warrants an urgent vet visit to treat pain, infection risk, and other issues (

In dental emergencies, time is of the essence. Don’t hesitate to contact an emergency vet right away if your dog exhibits signs like facial swelling, oral pain, lost teeth, injury, or sudden lethargy. Prompt treatment by professionals can help manage pain, infection, and other risks.

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