Downeast Dog News

February is National Dental Month

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Feb 01, 2021

Q. How do I know if my dog has mouth pain?

A. Not all mouth and tooth pain are created equal. Sometimes there is a swelling below the eye, which can indicate an abscessed molar, but it isn’t always that easy to tell. You need to be a good observer of your pouch’s behavior to see changes indicating pain.

February is National Pet Dental Month. I have written about dental hygiene a few times. Today I want to talk about how to assess your dog’s mouth health and if he is in pain. For dogs with a normal shaped muzzle, all the teeth should line up. With brachycephalic dogs with smooshed in faces, the teeth do not have room to line up properly. Many teeth are turned sideways, missing, and protruding out the front of the mouth. For dogs whose teeth are lined up, the upper teeth come down the outside of the lower teeth. This allows the dog to crush and tear when they are chewing. It also helps keep the teeth clean. Have you ever noticed when Fido loses a back upper tooth the lower tooth below will build up more tartar? That is because the cleaning action from the upper tooth is gone.

Often the signs of pain are minimal. Fido isn’t eating as well, losing weight, not chewing his food, and has bad breath. These can all be signs of a mouth problem with pain. Signs that may indicate discomfort in your companion might be flinching when touched around the mouth or that he chews on one side instead of both sides. Swellings around the muzzle are obvious signs of something going on. Many times, there isn’t obvious sign of pain with these swellings. Digging at the mouth is another sign of discomfort. This may indicate a loose tooth, something stuck in the mouth that is irritating Fido, or neurologic pain.

Symptoms of discomfort not directly associated with the mouth are head tilts, shaking his head, watery eyes and other ocular discharges. Nasal discharges may not be a sign of a cold but may stem from a problem in the mouth. Discharges can be clear and watery, mucous of any color, or even bloody.

It is important to check your dog’s mouth on a regular basis. If you brush your dog’s teeth, that is a good time to take a look. You will be looking for a change in color of the gums, abnormal swellings, bleeding around the base of the teeth, a bad odor, pus like discharge around the teeth, excessive drooling, and a change in behavior with handling Fido’s mouth. Behaviors like running away, growling, moving his head around to make it difficult to examine are all signs that there is a problem.

When you see any of these behaviors, symptoms, and changes, it is time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. It is not a time for a wait and see attitude. Dental disease that goes unchecked can cause more severe problems for your dog. Infections in the mouth can spread to the heart, liver, and kidneys creating potential life-threatening problems.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine