Do Dogs get Toothaches?

If your dog had a toothache, would you pick up on the subtle signs? As much as dogs do not sit and whine about a sore tooth as we humans do, the effect of poor dental health and periodontal disease affects them just the same.



Studies have shown that over 80% of dogs will have some form of periodontal disease by the age of 3. That is a scary statistic for any pet owner, coupled with the veterinary costs of dentals, antibiotics and pain relief makes prevention the key. What if you could pick up on the signs early, incorporate some effective prevention methods and reduce the likelihood of your pet being affected.




The most common sign that you will notice, is strong and offensive smelling breath. As the infection grows and festers, the strength of the smell with will be become more pungent. Alongside bad breath and swollen and red gums is a noticeable change in behaviour.


Noticeable changes in behaviour

A change in ‘normal’ behaviour for your pet is one of the first clues. No one knows your dog like you and without a thorough examination it is difficult to pick up on the signs.

Here are some behavioural changes that are commonly seen:




Reluctance to eat

As a tooth infection grows and starts to affect the gums, so does the pain and reluctance to eat. Think about when you have a toothache and the unrelenting constant pain that you feel until it is resolved. Often the pressure of eating causes discomfort and can cause them to avoid hard foods such as kibble and bones.




Cranky and unsociable

It is common and easy to accept unusually cranky and unsociable behaviour due to old age and/or arthritis. While this can often be the case, it is important to remember to combine symptoms. For example, if your dog is cranky, along with not wanting to eat, there is a strong possibility that he is suffering from some form of periodontal disease.



Many owners comment that the behavioural difference before and after the treatment of a sore tooth is remarkably different and it is wonderfully comforting to have them back to normal.




Pawing at the face

Dogs react very differently to us when it comes to pain and have been known to paw at a painful area when they are unable to lick or chew to provide some comfort.



Pawing at the face is a dog's way of trying to remove the cause of the pain. Accompanying this behaviour you may also notice chattering of the teeth and whining while yawning.


What does periodontal disease look like?

Dental disease is measured on a scale of 1 to 4 depending on the extent of the damage.  



The images below display the different levels of periodontal disease and at what level of veterinary attention is required.

Photos courtesy of:



What are your options?

When it comes to preventing plaque and tartar build up, you have a number of options at your disposal, and it really depends on what prevention method works best for you.



It is best practice to look at your options and start prevention when your dog is still a puppy and before they have any signs of periodontal disease, otherwise, when you start prevention you're already behind and playing catch up.



The best prevention comes from daily brushing of your dogs teeth with a suitable dog toothbrush. For some owners this can be time consuming and quite difficult as some dogs won't even let you close enough to their mouth to open it, let alone brush their teeth. For these dogs, the best prevention is through supplementation onto food with PlaqueAway, or through a combination of strong treats such as Cow Hooves, Shark Cartilage or Roo Tail Discs, depending on your dogs breed.



Whether you are using treats or PlaqueAway to prevent tartar build up, feeding once a day with your chosen preventative is sufficient for most dogs.



Many owners use rawhide treats as a form of dental support, but please be aware that rawhide is often made using a number of harmful chemicals and it does not break down in the gastrointestinal tract and can become lodged potentially causing a blockage.





Some dogs are predisposed to dental problems

Dogs, in general, are actually five times more likely to suffer from gum disease due to a couple of reasons. One is that they do not brush their teeth to remove the plaque on a daily basis as we do. Gold standard of dental hygiene for a dog is to brush their teeth daily, but for many this is not an option purely because their dog refuses the access.



Secondly, dogs saliva is much more alkaline than our own and promotes the growth of plaque. The number one cause of gum disease. It can feel like a losing battle from the start for some pet owners but prevention is key and can significantly reduce the chances of an anaesthetic, pulled teeth and antibiotics later in life.



"Plaque is made up of saliva, food debris, sloughed cells from the lining of the mouth, oral bacteria, and their by-products," says Colleen O'Morrow, DVM, a fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry and a veterinary dentist practicing in Manitoba, Canada. "As the plaque thickens from not being brushed away on a regular daily basis, the bacteria multiply."



Surprisingly there are some dog breeds that are predisposed to painful gum and teeth issues. Commonly it is the small ‘squashed’ face breeds that suffer from overcrowding of teeth causing poor growth and placement of teeth as they age. The overcrowding allows for food to become lodge and promote decay.



Some of these include:

  • English Bulldog
  • Boston Terrier
  • Maltese
  • Chihuahua
  • Brussels Griffons

Breeds that have long hair surrounding the jaw and overlaying the mouth may look super cute and fluffy but it also promotes decay of teeth. As the long hair becomes tangled around teeth it sits there and allows plaque to build up. It is best to keep this hair trimmed short to eliminate the problem.

  • Some of these include:
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Maltese
  • Wire-haired Jack Russell




Does prevention work?

Yes… Yes… and Yes! Is the best answer that I can give you. Once the plaque builds, it hardens and turns into tartar. Once tartar is present the gums will become inflamed, infections can occur and receding gums and gingivitis begin. At this point, your only answer is to try and salvage teeth by performing a dental which involves a full general anaesthetic. Dentals range depending on age, the health of your dog and the level of tartar and tooth decay, but they generally average around $400-$800.



Brushing your dogs teeth is ‘the gold standard’ of dental care and will ensure your dog gets the most out of his chompers. But if this is not an option, effective use of supplements and/or treats will significantly reduce the build up of plaque and prevent infections, tartar and rotten teeth.



Prevention will also help ensure that those doggy kisses don't come with a side plate of a rotting breath!



Belinda Bird 

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