Warning Signs of Oral Pain in Your Dog

dog tooth pain - sad bulldog on floor

Warning Signs of Oral Pain in Your Dog

Detecting oral pain in our pets can be a challenge. That’s because dogs are good at hiding any outward signs that would show they are in pain. Our health care professionals have the luxury of hearing from us when something is painful, but unfortunately, our pets can’t talk. Therefore, we need to be able to pick up on subtle clues to recognize when our dogs are dealing with tooth pain and take a proactive approach to minimize the pain.

Causes of Tooth/Oral Pain in Dogs

There is a plethora of conditions that will cause oral pain in dogs. Gingivitis, periodontitis, broken teeth, oral lacerations, jaw fractures and cancer of the oral cavity are all painful conditions that our furry friends could experience.  Although it seems like some of these conditions would be easily discernible, they most often go undetected because our pets mask their pain. They continue to eat and behave normally all the while, in pain. In many cases, these disease processes are advanced before our pets display any outward signs of suffering. 

Gingivitis which progresses into periodontitis is the most common reason our pets suffer from oral pain. Gingivitis and periodontitis are not diseases that can be cured, they are ongoing syndromes that need to be managed daily for the best control.  

It has been reported that greater than 80% of dogs have clinical evidence of periodontal disease by the age of two. Just imagine if we didn’t brush our teeth and stopped going to the dentist. How would our mouths feel?  Being proactive with routine, daily brushing and regular trips to the dentist help keep these diseases under control.   

Signs Your Dog is Experiencing Oral Pain

When dogs do show pain, they may do it in different ways. Some examples might look like: 

  • Drooling 
  • Whimpering  
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Change in behavior or displaying protective behavior
  • Resisting head pets
  • Change in activity level  
  • Decrease in appetite, eating slower or dropping food
  • Red or swollen gums

I caution anyone reading this blog from assuming that your dog is pain-free just because they are eating normally. Many of our patients come to us with significant oral disease and are still eating and behaving normally at home.

Identifying and Treating Oral Pain in Dogs

In order to combat oral pain in our canines, we must be proactive. Some indicators of oral disease or tooth pain can only be observed during an oral examination at the vet’s office. Red or swollen gums indicate inflammation and infection of the oral cavity. The buildup of plaque or calculus indicates the progression of common oral diseases.  

Dogs with severe periodontal disease or abscessed teeth may sneeze or have nasal discharge as the infection has eroded from the oral cavity into the nasal cavity.  As pet owners and veterinarians, our goal should be to combat oral disease before it begins. Taking a proactive approach will help ensure our pet’s oral health and minimize oral pain resulting from common oral diseases.  

A proactive approach to our pet’s oral health includes daily oral home care, providing proper nutrition, appropriate chew toys and regular comprehensive oral health assessments and treatments (COHATs) by your veterinarian or veterinary dentist. We highly recommended that a COHAT, under anesthesia, with ultrasonic scaling of the teeth above and below the gum line and polishing of the teeth be performed one to two times per year. If detected early, oral diseases may have a better response to treatment.  Earlier treatment results in less pain and a better quality of life for our pets.  

Veterinary Dentist in Colorado Springs, CO

In summary, assessment of oral pain in our pets is difficult and unfortunately often goes undetected.  We need to be aware of symptoms of oral pain but also recognize these symptoms can be subtle. Ultimately, if we are waiting for our pets to exhibit symptoms of oral pain, we are waiting too long. A proactive approach, including routine assessment at home and annual or biannual exams by one of our experienced veterinary dentists in Colorado Springs, Colorado allows more opportunities to identify problems earlier. It also is another way for us to strengthen the bond with our pets as we care for them and offer them the best lives possible.