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German shepherd getting teeth checked

The essentials

  • Dental care matters for dogs just as much as humans — Dental health shouldn’t be an afterthought for people or dogs. There are several widespread dental issues in dogs, and nearly all of them are preventable with proper maintenance and dental care.
  • Gingivitis and periodontal disease are very common problems — Caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar, gingivitis and gum disease affect two out of every three domesticated dogs.
  • Brush your dog’s teeth every day — Make sure to get your dog a pet-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste, and spend a couple of minutes each day caring for your pup’s teeth.

A few common dental problems in dogs

Sometimes pet owners have a misconception that because their pets are descended from wild animals, they’re self-sufficient outside of their need for food, water, shelter, and love. But this simply isn’t true — at least not when it comes to your pup’s dental care. As your dog’s caretaker, you’re responsible for making sure they have clean, healthy teeth. This includes yearly cleanings, daily brushing, and making sure their food and toys are good for their pearly whites.

If dental care and maintenance are ignored, dogs can experience several painful issues, some of the most common of which are listed below:

Plaque and tartar

Just like in humans, plaque and tartar can have a number of negative effects on your dog. Smelly breath, tooth decay, and other oral problems are all caused by a buildup of plaque, but these conditions are all easy to prevent. Brushing your dog’s teeth daily (something we’ll discuss in a moment) goes a long way toward preventing these and other issues.

Fractured teeth

Broken teeth are common in dogs. Though a dog’s teeth are generally very durable, they can still chip and fracture, usually because of trauma to a pet’s mouth or jaw. Most often, fractured teeth happen when a dog chews on a hard object, like sheep or cow bones. If your pup is a big chewer, consider giving them soft chew toys or dental chews so they can enjoy their favorite pastime without risking their dental health.

Retained baby teeth

Retained baby teeth crowd the space in a dog’s jaw, causing their adult teeth to become misaligned or form improperly. This can be very painful for a dog and needs to be dealt with immediately, usually by having the baby tooth removed by a veterinarian.

Oral Infection

Infections like tooth root abscesses can be very painful and are often caused by chewing on a bone or a particularly hard toy. Fractured teeth can cause severe pain and create an avenue for bacteria to start growing inside your dog’s mouth. This means a fractured or chipped tooth should be taken just as seriously as periodontal disease. Just as with tooth fracture, this problem can be avoided by opting for soft, tooth-friendly toys and bones.

Periodontal disease

The word “periodontal” refers to teeth and their surrounding tissues, like a dog’s gums. Gum disease, which begins with gingivitis, can cause a lot of pain and discomfort for your dog and is caused by plaque and tartar buildup. It’s one of the most common health issues that dogs experience and can lead to tooth loss.

The stages of periodontal disease

There are four stages of periodontal disease, each progressively more severe than the last:

  • Stage one: Inflamed gums (gingivitis)
  • Stage two: Teeth begin to lose support in their roots
  • Stage three: Teeth roots exposed, teeth become physically loose
  • Stage four: Tooth removal is needed — more than 50% of a dog’s supporting tooth structure is gone

👉 Check out betterpet’s guide to preventing the progression of gum disease here. 

Dog with gingivitis

This dog has gingivitis, stage one of periodontal disease.

How do I know if my dog has periodontal disease?

The most common and visible signs of periodontal disease include the following:

  • Bright red gums
  • Discoloration of the teeth, specifically a black or brown color
  • A brownish-green or gray substance on the tooth surface
  • Bad breath
  • Sensitivity or anxiety about being touched near the mouth

Signs of tooth pain in dogs 

Do you think your dog might be experiencing dental problems? Look through this list to see if any of the following signs of dental pain match up with what you’re observing in your pup:

  • Reduced interest in eating, especially dry food or hard treats
  • Slow chewing
  • Food falling out of the mouth while chewing
  • New or increased drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Resistance to being touched near the face or mouth
  • Inflamed or red gums
  • Visible tooth roots (a sign of progressing gum disease)

Which dogs are most at risk?

Dental issues can affect any dog of any breed, though some dental issues do have a genetic component. Puppies may also experience dental issues if their baby teeth stick around longer than they should, requiring tooth removal or corrective surgery in severe cases.

Periodontal disease is a risk for small dogs in particular. Because small-breed dogs also have small heads, their teeth tend to be crowded. This means there’s an increased chance that plaque will build up in the tiny spaces between their teeth.

Large dogs, on the other hand, are more at risk for fractures and chips in their teeth. Because their teeth are larger and they can therefore fit larger (often tougher) objects into their mouths, tooth fracture can be common.

Caring for your pup’s teeth 

Wondering how exactly you should approach dental care for your dog? Let these tips guide you:

Make sure to brush daily — Dogs need their teeth brushed daily just like you do. Make sure to get them a dog-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste, as products made for humans can damage canine teeth. If your dog isn’t accustomed to having their teeth brushed, ease them into it by starting slow and giving lots of praise and treats.

Avoid hard bones — Hard bones can do a lot of damage to a dog’s teeth. Beware at the pet store, too. Bones or chew toys can be advertised as beneficial to a dog’s teeth when the exact opposite is true. Soft and medium-density toys and bones are always recommended.

Look for VOHC approval — The Veterinary Oral Health Council is a nonprofit organization that approves of products that are beneficial to the dental health of animals, including dogs and cats. If you’re in the market for a dental product for your pup, check for the VOHC seal.

Be prepared to do more as your dog ages — Dogs experience more dental issues as they get older. That means brushing becomes more important, veterinary visits become more frequent, and the danger of chewing on the wrong thing becomes more intense. As your dog gets older, keep this in mind and be prepared to go the extra mile to ensure your pup has good dental health.

Do dental care bones really help?

Good news for concerned pet parents: Dental chews, as they’re known, can be a major benefit to your dog’s oral health. The mechanical action of chewing can help rid their teeth of dental plaque, and some chews are even coated with ingredients that make it harder for bacteria to stick to your dog’s teeth. If you’re wondering which dental chews or treats are best for your dog, check out our vet-approved guide to the best dental chews for dogs.

Frequently asked questions

Which dog breeds have the most teeth problems?

Dental problems don’t typically affect one breed of dog more than others, and dental problems are widespread in all breeds. That said, periodontal disease and other issues tend to be most prevalent among Yorkies, Chihuahuas, boxers, and dachshunds.

What can I do for my aging dog with bad teeth?

The two most important things you can do are to pay attention to your dog’s mouth and brush their teeth daily. Most dental problems in dogs are treatable with early detection, so vigilance is key. Regular cleanings can also prevent many dental issues before they have a chance to develop. Additionally, have a conversation with your vet about dental prophylaxis and whether or not your dog is a candidate.

What are the most common signs of dental issues in dogs?

The most obvious signs of dental problems in dogs include red or inflamed gums, sensitivity to hard foods and treats, pawing at the mouth, and avoidance, especially when being touched around the mouth. If you notice any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you can.

What do unhealthy dog teeth look like?

Bad dog teeth look as you might expect. Discoloration, recessed gums, exposed roots, and visible chips and fractures are all common. Dental issues can be pretty serious by the time you notice symptoms and should be treated by a vet ASAP.

How often should I brush my dog’s teeth?

Daily brushing is recommended by most vets. If you forget a day of brushing, don’t panic — your pup will be fine. Giving your dog dental chews is another good way to keep their teeth healthy, though this shouldn’t be a substitute for brushing.