How Do I Know If My Dog Has Tooth or Mouth Pain?

small brown dog sitting on grass

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Tooth or Mouth Pain?

For many people, dogs are members of the family. With the loving bond that develops, it is vital to make sure your pet lives a comfortable and healthy life. If you have ever had a toothache, you understand that the pain and throbbing that develops can be significant. It affects how we interact with other people, our quality of life, and so much more. Unfortunately, most dogs won’t tell you their mouth hurts. So, what are some of the causes and signs of oral or dental pain?

Causes of oral pain in dogs

Oral pain can originate from many locations within the mouth. The most common being dental pain. The outside of the tooth is comprised of enamel, which covers the crown of the tooth.  Enamel is the hardest substance in the body. Enamel has no blood or nerve supply. This allows you to eat and drink hot or cold items without pain. 

Underneath the enamel is dentin. Dentin comprises the majority of the structure of the tooth and is also very hard, but not as hard as the enamel. Dentin does sense pain, heat, and cold. 

Below the dentin is the pulp, the blood and nerve supply to the tooth. If the pulp is exposed, it really hurts. In addition to pain, there is also the potential for infection when the dentin and/or pulp is exposed.  

Another common area for oral pain is the gum and cheek tissue. If you have ever bit your cheek, you know this can hurt. Gingivitis and periodontal disease cause inflammation and swelling of the tissues. This inflammation can make the gums tender when eating or brushing.  In some situations, ulcerations can develop, and these can be really painful.  

Trauma or inflammation of the tongue can also lead to pain. While biting the tongue is a potentially common problem, other causes exist as well. Dogs who get a lot of burdock stuck on their coat will often lick or chew these out. Many of these tiny little plant fibers embed in the tongue and create microabscesses or inflammatory sores.

Other painful conditions include, but are not limited to fractured jaws, luxated or avulsed (dislocated) teeth, tumors, immune-mediated conditions, TMJ joint arthritis, and other infectious diseases.  

7 Signs that your dog may be experiencing oral pain

How will your dog tell you something hurts? Unfortunately, the answer is that the majority of dogs won’t tell you. Most dogs will continue to eat, play, chew, wag their tail, and greet you at the door like they always do. Some dogs have oral pain for months, years, or the majority of their life, without it ever being addressed.

Here are a few subtle signs your dog could be experiencing oral or dental pain:

1. Changes in eating  

You pet may chew a little slower than usual. This may or may not be readily noticed. If there is a particular area that hurts, he or she may chew on one side or on the area of the mouth where it doesn’t hurt. Favoring one side of the mouth is a common finding. In winter months, dogs may eat snow and wince due to cold sensitivity. If your pet is dropping kibble when eating, that could be a sign of oral pain.

2. Changes in chewing

Like eating, some changes in chewing on toys or other objects may be a clue.  We have seen police dogs with many broken teeth that will still attack the sleeve in training. The only sign they show is a very subtle “regrip” of their bite on the sleeve.

Some dogs will prefer to chew on objects just using one side of their mouth, while others may stop chewing altogether. If your dog used to be a fanatic about tug-of-war, but now lets go too early so you can win, he or she could be painful.

3. Increased salivation (drooling)

Salivating is a normal physiologic response to eating, sensing the smell or taste of food, nausea, and other conditions. Some animals will drool a lot when they have pain. This pain could be from the mouth or somewhere else on the body.

Excessive salivation (ptyalism) from oral pain could be a sign of irritation or pain. Fractured teeth, oral sores or ulcers, chemical or topical irritants, heavy calculus accumulation, oral foreign body, and other causes are possible.

4. Teeth Grinding or chattering

Like excessive drooling, grinding of the teeth (bruxism) is caused by abnormal tooth-on-tooth contact. If this is a new issue for your dog, oral pain could be the cause. Other possibilities include problems with the TMJ (hinge joint of the jaw), a bad bite, gastrointestinal pain, or an oral foreign body.

5. Becoming head or mouth shy

Most dogs like being pet on the head, getting an ear rub, or having their chin scratched. If something is painful in the mouth, some dogs will be reluctant to allow it. They may pull their head back, turn it away, or get up and move. In cases of severe pain, they may even bite.  

6. Halitosis (bad breath)

Although bad breath, or halitosis, is not specific to oral pain, it could be a signal that something else is going on the mouth. Halitosis can be a result of infection, oral foreign bodies, exudate or discharge, and other causes. Halitosis in your pet warrants an investigation into potential causes.  

7. Red Gums (gingivitis)

Gingivitis is an inflammatory and infectious disease process in the mouth.  The inflammation can lead to pain and tenderness, including tooth loss.  

What if there are no symptoms?

The aforementioned signs that your dog could be experiencing oral pain are not exclusive.  There are other symptoms that may be exhibited.  Most dogs will not show all of these signs.  Some dogs will not show any outward signs of oral problems. It is up to you to ensure his or her comfort and health are taken care into consideration.  

A good way to monitor for signs of oral problems at home is to get used to looking at your pet’s mouth. You will not necessarily know what is abnormal if you do not know what is normal. Daily brushing of your pet’s teeth is a perfect exercise for this. Not only does it help keep your dog’s teeth cleaner and the gums healthier, it also helps you learn what your dog’s mouth looks like. 

If you see anything abnormal, or if you notice your pet seems more sensitive in an area, you will be able to detect it sooner, instead of having him or her suffer in silence for a long time.  

Veterinary Dentist in Wisconsin

If you suspect your pet could have a painful mouth, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary dentist if the condition is beyond his/her comfort level or expertise. If that is the case, please reach out to one of the veterinarians listed on our website.  

With regular and effective home care, monitoring your pet’s comfort and activities, and annual professional cleanings, you can help your dog live a long, healthy, and pain-free life. 



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