Signs of dental problems in dogs: how to recognize the silent signals

As a pet parent, I’m sure you’re aware of the heartwarming ways your canine pal conveys affection and happiness. But what about when your dog is dealing with discomfort? Your four-legged friends might not be able to tell you directly, but he can drop some pretty clear hints when something’s not quite right. You just have to know what to look for 🙂

One area that deserves a closer look is dog dental health – an essential aspect of your pup’s overall well-being that is often overlooked. 

Dental issues cause pain, and discomfort, and can even lead to more serious health problems if left untreated. Luckily, recognizing the signs of dental problems in dogs is not that hard. Combined with regular dental care, you can make sure your pup’s teeth stay strong and pain-free. 

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

a hand using a toothbrush for dogs on a golden labrador

The basics of canine dental health

First of all, you need to understand the basics of canine dentistry. A healthy mouth is crucial to your dog’s overall well-being, and it’s up to you to make sure they receive proper care. 

Anatomy of a dog’s mouth

A dog’s mouth is made up of several different parts, each with its own function. Here’s a breakdown of the anatomy of a dog’s mouth:

  • Teeth: Dogs have four types of teeth – incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. Each type has a different function – they are used for biting, tearing, and grinding food.
  • Gums: The gums surround the base of the teeth and help hold them in place.
  • Tongue: The tongue is used for licking, tasting, and swallowing food.
  • Salivary glands: Dogs have three pairs of salivary glands that produce saliva to help break down food.
  • Jaw: The jaw is made up of two bones – the upper maxilla and the lower mandible. These bones allow the dog to open and close their mouth.

Different types of dog teeth

A dog’s mouth and his teeth are a fascinating combination of form and function, with four distinct types of teeth that serve various purposes.

Incisors, the small front teeth, play a crucial role in grooming and nibbling on delicate items. 

Canines, the sharp, pointed teeth next to the incisors, are designed for gripping, tearing, and holding objects. 

Premolars, located behind the canines, are equipped for grinding and tearing larger chunks of food. 

Molars, located at the back of the mouth aid in thorough grinding and crushing of tougher substances. 

Each type of tooth complements the others, forming a dynamic ensemble that supports a dog’s dietary and behavioral needs. 

a close-up of a dog's mouth while he's barking, text reads "Different types of dog teeth" and arrows pointing to each tooth type (incisors, canines, premolars, molars)

Importance of regular dental care

Just like humans, dogs need regular dental care to maintain good oral health. Neglecting your dog’s dental health can lead to a variety of problems, including tooth decay, gum disease, and even more dangerous health problems.

Here are a few reasons why regular dental care is important for your dog:

  • Prevents tooth decay: Regular brushing and dental cleanings can help prevent tooth decay and cavities.
  • Reduces risk of gum disease: Gum disease is a common problem in dogs and can lead to tooth loss and other health issues. 
  • Improves overall health: Poor dental health can lead to other, much more serious health problems, such as heart disease and liver or kidney disease. By taking care of your dog’s teeth, you can help improve their overall health.

Ok, now that you know how important oral care is, let’s move to those signs of dental problems in dogs 🙂

Recognizing signs of dental problems in dogs

As a dog owner, you need to be able to recognize the signs of dental problems in your dog. Some of them are quite obvious, but some can be very subtle. 

Dental problems can cause pain and discomfort, and if left untreated, can lead to more serious health issues. 

Obvious signs of dental problems in dogs:

Some signs of dental problems in dogs are more obvious than others. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Bad breath
  • Drooling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Pawing at the mouth or rubbing against surfaces
  • Dropping food
  • Discolored teeth or visible accumulation of tartar
  • Redness or bleeding of the gums
  • Swelling or lumps in the mouth

Behavioral changes associated with dental problems:

Some signs of dental problems in dogs are more subtle and can manifest as behavioral changes. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Alterations in eating patterns
  • Avoiding chew toys
  • Heightened irritability or unusual aggression
  • Hiding or lethargy

In general, if you feel that something is not right with your pup, take him to a vet. I’ve seen dogs that had massive inflammation in their mouths and the reason they were brought to the clinic was something along the lines of “He just seems so sad lately” 🤷‍♀️

You know your dog. Trust your instincts. If something seems off, there’s usually a good reason for it ❣️

Infographics - Title reads Most common signs of dental problems in dogs

Most common dental diseases in dogs

Much like humans, dogs are susceptible to various dental ailments, which can arise from a range of causes. Some issues stem from the buildup of bacteria along the gum line, while others may emerge following injuries or genetic predispositions.

Interestingly, dogs do not experience cavities, a common dental problem among humans. This may be because humans have a different teeth structure, and let’s be honest, we tend to eat waay too much carbohydrates. 

So what do dogs suffer from? 


Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can be reversed with proper dental care. It is caused by the buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth, which can lead to inflammation of the gums. Signs of gingivitis in dogs include red or swollen gums, bad breath, and bleeding gums.

Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is an advanced form of gingivitis that can cause damage to the teeth, surrounding tissues and even the bone. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including dental disease, infection, and autoimmune disorders. It occurs when the bacteria in plaque and tartar spread below the gum line. This causes infection and inflammation of the periodontium (the tissues that surround and support the teeth). 

Endodontic disease

Endodontic disease is a dental problem that affects the inside of the tooth, including the pulp and root. It can be caused by trauma, infection, or dental decay. Signs of endodontic disease in dogs include swelling around the affected tooth, pain, and sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.


Malocclusion is not a dental disease per se, but a dental problem that affects the way the teeth fit together. They can be caused by genetics, trauma, or improper dental care. When the teeth don’t align as they should (or a tooth is missing), it contributes to plaque building. 

Other diseases and contributing factors:

There are several other diseases that can affect a dog’s mouth, including (but not limited to) different types of cancer, autoimmune diseases, systemic infections, or metabolic diseases. 

On top of that, there are several factors that can contribute to dental problems in dogs:

  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Breed predispositions
  • Genetics
  • Age 
  • Diet 

While these factors increase the risk of dental diseases in dogs, they are also manageable. If you know your dog is a small breed with malocclusions that loves eating wet diets, you can compensate by brushing his teeth daily and taking him for professional cleanings and check-ups as often as necessary. 

a hand using a toothbrush for dogs and cleaning a puppy's teeth

Effects of poor oral hygiene on your dog’s health

Poor oral health in dogs can have serious consequences, affecting not only their teeth and gums but also their overall health. Here are some of the effects of poor oral health in dogs.

On teeth and gums

Poor oral hygiene can lead to the build-up of tartar and plaque on your dog’s teeth. Over time, the accumulation of these substances can cause tooth decay, inflammation of the tissues and structures around the teeth, and even tooth loss. 

Bacterial infection caused by poor oral hygiene often leads to inflammation of the gums, also known as gingivitis. If left untreated, this can progress to periodontitis, which can cause tissue and bone loss around the teeth.

On overall health

The effects of poor oral health in dogs are not limited to their teeth and gums. Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and affect other organs such as the heart and liver. 

Studies have shown a link between periodontal disease in dogs and an increased risk of cardiovascular-related conditions, such as endocarditis and cardiomyopathy. In other words – your pup’s teeth problem can lead to a serious heart condition. 

Similar studies have also shown that periodontal disease radically increases the likelihood of liver and kidney pathologies. Dental problems are a serious risk factor for liver, kidney, and heart conditions.   

These studies proove that poor oral health can have serious consequences for your dog’s overall health and well-being. 

By taking care of your dog’s teeth and gums, you can help prevent not just dental problems, but also more serious health conditions.  

Why your dog needs professional dental care

As a veterinarian, I can tell you that professional dental care is crucial for your pet’s overall health and well-being. Regular dental check-ups, cleanings, and treatments can help prevent dental problems and ensure that any issues are addressed promptly.

Regular dental exams

During a dental examination, a veterinarian will assess your dog’s teeth, gums, and mouth for any signs of dental problems. 

This may include checking for broken teeth, loose teeth, trauma, abscesses, and other issues that can impact your dog’s oral health. X-rays and radiographs may also be taken to get a better look at your dog’s teeth and jaw.

Regular oral exams are crucial for detecting dental problems early. Early detection can prevent further complications and save your dog from a painful experience. And save you money on expensive treatments 🤷‍♀️


If your dog is experiencing dental problems, there are several treatments that may be recommended. Scaling and root planing can help remove plaque and tartar buildup, while a root canal may be necessary to save a tooth that has been damaged or infected. In some cases, a broken tooth may need to be extracted to prevent further complications.

Preventive care

Preventive care is key to maintaining your dog’s oral health. Regular professional dental cleanings can help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar, reducing the risk of dental problems. They are also necessary to uncover problems that are hidden under the tartar or deeper under the gums. 

The Veterinary Oral Health Council recommends that dogs receive professional dental cleanings at least once a year.

It’s important to note that many dental procedures (including professional cleaning!) require anesthesia to ensure your dog’s safety and comfort. Anesthesia is always a bit risky, so your pup will need a thorough medical examination to determine if he can be safely put under. 

If your dog needs dental treatment, be sure to choose a reliable veterinarian who is experienced in veterinary dentistry or a board-certified veterinary dentist. 

Professional dental care is an important aspect of your dog’s overall health and well-being. Regular dental check-ups, cleanings, and treatments can help prevent dental problems and ensure that any issues are addressed promptly. By working with a trusted veterinarian, you can be sure your dog is in good hands (and safe) 🐶

printable breeding records

How to care for your dog’s teeth at home

Regular home dental care should be combined with professional care to keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy. By taking good care of your dog’s mouth at home, you can even radically lessen the number of times your dog will need a professional cleaning or treatment. This basically means that your pup won’t need anesthesia often. 

So how can you take care of your dog’s teeth? Well, first of all, start brushing your pup’s teeth 🙂

Brushing your dog’s teeth

Brushing your dog’s teeth is one of the most effective ways to remove plaque and prevent tartar buildup. You can use a toothbrush designed for dogs or a fingerbrush to clean your dog’s teeth. Be sure to use toothpaste made specifically for dogs, as human toothpaste can be harmful to them (not to mention they won’t like the strong smell and taste).

To brush your dog’s teeth, start by introducing him to the toothbrush and toothpaste. Let him sniff and taste the toothpaste before you start brushing. 

Then, gently lift his lip and brush his teeth in a circular motion, focusing on the gum line. Be gentle and patient, and reward your dog with praise and treats. In time, your pup will get used to brushing and it will be a normal part of your daily routine.

Dental care products for dogs

In addition to brushing, there are several dental care products that can help keep your dog’s teeth clean. Dental chews, bones, and toys can help remove plaque and tartar while satisfying your dog’s chewing needs. 

Look for products that are specifically designed for dental care and made from safe materials. If you want to be certain what you’re using is safe, the Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of approved dental products for dogs and cats.

Diet and chew toys:

A healthy diet can also contribute to your dog’s dental health. Feeding your dog high-quality food and avoiding sugary treats can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. 

If you feed your dog only (or mostly) a wet diet, it’s too soft to mechanically remove plaque from his teeth. Your dog will need you to brush his teeth regularly to help him get rid of tartar and build-up plague. 

Chew toys, such as antlers and chew sticks, can also help keep your dog’s teeth clean and strong. But be careful and choose the right size for your dog. 

Dental diets:

Dental diets are specially formulated to promote healthy teeth and gums. These diets contain ingredients that help reduce plaque and tartar build-up. They also contain fluoride, which helps strengthen your dog’s teeth.

Other dental products for dogs:

Finally, there are several other products that you can use to promote your dog’s dental health. They can be divided into several categories: water additives, oral gels, oral sprays, or powders that are added to the food. 

Giving your dog dental treats can be a good way to bond and to keep his teeth clean ☺️ Just make sure you buy the right size for your dog!

Be sure to choose products that are safe for dogs and follow the instructions carefully.

Overall, home care is an essential part of maintaining your dog’s dental health. By brushing regularly, using dental care products, and feeding a healthy diet, you can help prevent dental problems and keep your dog healthy. 

dog planner

When to seek veterinary assistance

By now you know that it’s important to be aware of the signs of dental problems in dogs. While some minor dental issues can be treated at home, most of them require veterinary assistance. 

Here are some signs that indicate it’s time to take your dog to the vet for dental care:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Red or bleeding gums: Healthy gums should be pink (like yours when you look in the mirror), not red or bleeding. If you notice any inflammation or bleeding, it’s time to see the vet.
  • Loose or missing teeth: Adult dogs should not be losing teeth. If you notice any loose or missing teeth, it’s a sign of a serious dental problem.
  • Difficulty eating: If your dog is having trouble chewing or swallowing his food, it could be due to dental pain or discomfort.
  • Excessive drooling: While some dogs drool more than others, if your dog is drooling more than he usually does, it’s time to see a vet.

In general, I would recommend seeking veterinary assistance if you see any signs that may be related to dental issues. Your vet will be able to diagnose the problem and recommend the appropriate treatment.

It’s also important to schedule regular dental checkups for your dog, as most dental diseases can be prevented with proper care. Your vet can recommend a dental care routine specifically tailored to your dog’s needs and lifestyle.

Remember, dental health is an important part of your dog’s overall health and well-being. By being aware of the signs of dental problems and seeking veterinary assistance when necessary, you can help keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime.

By staying on top of your dog’s dental health, you can help prevent dental problems and keep your furry friend healthy.

PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet health tips, subscribe to my newsletter! Today you will get a free pet planner as a bonus 🤗

What to read next:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *