The signs a dog has a toothache are not always as straightforward as one may imagine. Dogs can be quite stoic beings and therefore have a tendency to hide their pain for as much and as long as they can. At some point though the pain may become difficult to hide and that is often when subtle or more evident signs may occur. Even when dogs do manifest pain, the signs of pain may be not be readily recognized, or they may be misinterpreted and confused for something else. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs a dog has a toothache so that the dog can get treatment and no longer needs to suffer in silence.
Signs a Dog Has a Toothache
Contrary to popular belief, the perception of pain in dogs is not different from the perception of pain in human beings. Dogs have nerves in their gums, periodontal ligaments and tooth roots.
Dogs, just like people, may therefore suffer from the pain of a toothache, but unlike people, they are not much prone to cavities as people are.
Instead dogs, typically suffer from several other dental problems such as periodontal disease, which is a chronic progressive inflammatory diseases affecting the tissues surrounding the dog’s teeth, teeth infections, a tooth root abscess or a fractured tooth.
While below is a list of signs a dog has a toothache, it’s important to consider that may times dogs do not show evident signs at all. This is because hiding pain in dogs is a survival mechanism, an instinctive behavior that has been passed down through several generations from their ancestors.
1) Bad Breath
Normally, dog breath should not have a particularly offensive odor. Sure, it won’t be sweet or appealing but it shouldn’t be that bad to make you say “yuck” and flee the room. If your dog’s breath is offensive, there are high chances your dog is suffering from periodontal disease. Statistically, this is very common considering that it is estimated that 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have some level of periodontal disease already.
However, sometimes you need to put your investigative hat on to rule out other potential causes of bad odor. For instance, if your dog just licked his rear and you got a strong fishy smell from your dog, the smell is likely coming from the glands under his tail rather than his teeth. To confirm that eerie smell is coming from your dog’s teeth, smell your dog’s mouth area when he’s panting or nearby you. Persistent bad breath is a sign of problems.
As mentioned, bad breath in dogs often stems from periodontal disease. What happens here is that bacteria cause gum inflammation and tartar build-up which causes bad odor. Left untreated, plaque and tartar continue piling up on the dog’s teeth and under the gums, which attracts even more bacteria, which means… more bad breath.
2) Signs of Inflammation
Bad breath is one possible sign of periodontal disease, but you can gain a whole lot more information if you look inside your dog’s mouth. Do this only if your dog lets you and doesn’t act aggressive. Consider that some dogs may become defensive if they are not used to having their mouths touched, so use caution.
When dogs develop periodontal disease, there is tartar over the teeth which appears as unsightly brown areas by the gumline. Because this tartar causes inflammation, there may be also red, swollen gums that are easy to bleed. As the condition progresses, the gums may form pockets or recede.
Without treatment, a dog’s teeth may loosen and fall out. This is Nature’s Way of getting rid of a problem, but it usually takes months to years for this to happen, and by then bacteria from the mouth may travel to the dog’s bloodstream reaching distant organs like the dog’s heart, kidneys and possibly, liver.
Note: if your dog has always been collaborative in having his mouth area touched, and now is reluctant, take that as a sign of potential mouth pain. Also, if your dog seems to have more tartar on one side of the mouth, consider that he may compensating chewing on one side of the mouth due to pain.
“Because of periodontal disease’s affect on overall health, it’s more than a localized problem that leads to bad breath and tooth loss—it’s also the beginning of more severe systemic issues. “~ Mary L. Berg, Charter member of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technician
3) Changes in Eating Habits
Eating hard items such as kibble may cause dogs affected by a toothache a certain level of pain and this may show by altered eating habits. These changes may not be visible in dogs who are fed soft foods such as canned food, home cooked meals or raw patties.
Affected dogs may start dropping food on the ground from their mouth as they associate the kibble with pain if the kibble happens to hit a certain painful area. They may then eat the kibble dropped possibly being more careful in chewing.
Many dogs manage to eat and chew on one side of the mouth while others may decide to just skip the pain and swallow food whole. Some dogs, on the other hand, may push the food bowl around as they are hungry but associate the food with pain and therefore get frustrated. Some dogs may even approach the food bowl and then walk away or act scared. Other will eat but much slower and with less enthusiasm.
While changes in eating habits is one of the many signs a dog has a toothache, it’s important to consider that many dogs with teeth problems will still eat their kibble and even chew bones without showing any particular signs of problems.
4) “Unrelated” Signs of Pain
Dogs show pain differently than humans. While you may hold your cheek in your hand or complain when you have dental pain, your dog will show substantially different signs. These signs of pain are often not related to what we would expect to see in a dog with a toothache.
For instance, your dog may yawn and possibly even cry when yawning, he may scratch his ears or the side of the face, smack his lips, lick his nose or chatter his teeth. He may also be drool more.
Sneezing can be a sign of troubled teeth considering that the roots of some teeth touch the nasal area of dogs. Be also watchful for swelling of the dog’s face area such as under the eyes .
Some dogs may act funny like they may associate certain areas of the home with pain and move from one area to another. The dog may get up from sleeping, feel pain and go to sleep somewhere else in hopes of escaping the pain.
5) Acting Cranky and Withdrawn
When the pain is strong, many dogs may act lethargic and withdrawn. They may sleep more and interact with their family less. Some dogs may act cranky, grouchy or they may act needy or hide.
The most noticeable signs a dog has a toothache are often only noticed later once the dog is treated. Dog owners report a big difference between how the dog felt before and how he feels after treatment. Many dog owners assumed their dog was acting cranky just from aging, but after dental treatment are surprised to have their old dogs act like puppies again.
As a dog owner, you know your dog best, so any new behavior that appears suspicious should warrant a vet visit to have so to have those teeth checked out.