13 Signs Your Dog Could Be Developing Dental Disease

Signs of Dental Disease in Dogs

Just like humans, dogs can develop a range of dental diseases that can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and even tooth loss if left untreated. While your dog can’t tell you their mouth is sore, there are several signs you can watch out for that may indicate your furry friend is developing dental disease.

Being aware of these signs and getting veterinary care early is key to managing dental health issues and preventing further complications.

In this article, we’ll go over the major signs that could mean your dog is dealing with dental problems. Learn what to look out for so you can get your pup the treatment they need for healthy teeth and gums.

Section 1: Bad Breath

One of the most common indicators of dental disease in dogs is persistent bad breath, also called halitosis. While it’s normal for your dog’s breath to have a slight “doggy” odor at times, a foul, offensive stench could signify an underlying issue.

Bad breath is most often caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth. As plaque accumulates, it allows bacteria to thrive and penetrate below the gum line, causing infection and inflammation. This can produce a foul odor.

Dogs with severe gum disease (periodontitis) tend to have the worst breath due to the bacteria festering in their mouths. Any decayed or abscessed teeth will also contribute to foul-smelling breath.

Section 2: Discolored Teeth

Along with bad breath, discolored teeth can be a red flag for dental problems in canines. Healthy teeth should be white or light yellow. If you notice brown, grey or black discoloration, it’s likely caused by:

  • Plaque and tartar: Plaque that hardens into tartar causes yellowish to brown staining on teeth. The longer tartar sits, the darker it gets.
  • Enamel damage: Cracks, chips or wear in the enamel expose the inner dentin layer, causing yellow-brown discoloration.
  • Pulp exposure: Severe dental decay can reach the pulp chamber, causing grey, black or reddish discoloration at the tooth’s roots.
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The extent of staining often correlates with the amount of tartar buildup and decay present. Have your vet take a look if your dog’s pearly whites are looking dingy.

Section 3: Swollen Gums

Swollen, inflamed gums are a telltale sign of periodontal disease in canines. Gum inflammation happens in response to irritation from plaque bacteria accumulating under the gum line.

You may notice your dog’s gums look puffy or protruding between their teeth. Red, bleeding gums are also common with gum inflammation and infection. Severe long-term cases can cause gum recession.

Because gum disease is painful, your dog may show signs like reluctance to eat hard food or have their mouth touched. Catching gum issues early allows treatment before major damage occurs.

Section 4: Loose or Missing Teeth

Advanced dental disease can destroy the tissues anchoring teeth in place, leading to loose or lost teeth. Periodontitis erodes the bone holding teeth in the jaw sockets. Painful abscesses at the root tip also destroy bone.

With moderate to severe gum recession, teeth can become so loose that they fall out or need extraction. Missing teeth or wobbly front teeth are obvious signs of trouble. However, loose molars far back in the mouth may go unnoticed.

Let your vet examine your dog’s entire mouth if any teeth seem looser than normal. Extensive dental x-rays can check for unseen problems under the gums as well.

dog Loose or Missing Teeth

Section 5: Lumps Around the Mouth

Sometimes the first noticeable signs of a dental issue in dogs are unusual lumps or bumps around their mouth. Common causes include:

  • Tooth root abscesses: Infection at the root tip creates a localized pocket of pus, seen as a lump on the gums or face.
  • Oral tumors: Both malignant and benign masses can develop in the mouth. Your vet can determine if a growth is related to tooth problems or separate cancer.
  • Broken teeth: Fractured tooth fragments below the gum line may form granulomas, which are hard nodules made of inflamed tissue.

Any new mass on the muzzle or jaw area, especially coupled with other symptoms, warrants an exam. Prompt diagnosis is key to appropriate treatment.

Section 6: Head Shyness or Mouth Pain

Dogs instinctively hide symptoms of weakness to avoid appearing vulnerable in the wild. So oral discomfort may manifest as subtle behavioral changes instead of obvious whimpering.

Signs your pup’s mouth is hurting include:

  • Reluctance to eat, chew or play with toys
  • Hesitance to let you touch their head or muzzle
  • Shying away when petted around the eyes, ears or jaw
  • Guarding food and treats instead of gobbling eagerly
  • Dropping food to chew on one side of the mouth
  • Yelping when yawning or panting
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Any new head shyness, avoidance of chewing, or wariness about mouth handling warrants a veterinary visit to pinpoint the cause. Your dog may have fractured teeth, abscesses, or other problems.

Section 7: Eye or Nasal Discharge

Drainage from your dog’s eyes or nose could potentially indicate an infected tooth. The roots of upper molars extend under the eye sockets. Lower molars have roots reaching toward the nasal cavities.

An abscess at the tip of a tooth root can disrupt these adjacent structures. Signs include:

  • Excessive tearing or yellow-green eye discharge
  • Runny nose, sometimes tinged with blood or pus
  • Sneezing due to nasal irritation

These symptoms often localize to one side of the face. A dental abscess should be ruled out if your dog has chronic eye or nose discharge. Prompt treatment helps prevent the infection from spreading further.

Section 8: Facial Swelling

Visible facial swelling is an alarming symptom that can occur with advanced untreated dental infections in dogs. The swelling stems from pus and inflammation tracking from a severely abscessed tooth.

Common areas affected include under the eyes, along the jawline, or around the muzzle. Swelling is often extremely painful. Dogs may act lethargic, STOP eating, and run a fever with this level of infection.

Urgent veterinary care is needed to treat the abscess before dangerous complications arise, like sepsis or facial deformity. Aggressive tooth extractions and antibiotics are usually necessary.

Section 9: Bleeding From the Mouth

If you notice your dog’s mouth actively bleeding, seek emergency vet care. Severe dental disease can cause hemorrhaging in several ways:

  • Advanced gum disease eats through vessels, causing bleeding.
  • Sharp tooth fragments cut into the tongue or gums.
  • Abscessed teeth may erode into blood vessels.
  • Oral tumors are highly vascular and prone to bleeding.
  • Clotting disorders can worsen bleeding from minor mouth irritation.

Pinpointing the origin of bleeding is important for proper treatment. Don’t attempt to treat bleeding at home. Seek professional veterinary care immediately.

doctors treating a dog teeth's

Section 10: Excessive Drooling

You may notice an increase in drooling from your dog’s mouth if they have a painful tooth. The extra saliva production is thought to help soothe mouth discomfort.

Excess drooling or saliva pooling around the lips signals something is irritating your dog internally. Common dental causes include fractured teeth, ulcers from sharp edges or sores, and abscesses putting pressure on salivary ducts.

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Tartar buildup can also cause inflammation that leads to excessive drooling. Pay attention if your clean-mouthed dog suddenly starts leaving wet spots everywhere. It could indicate a new dental problem.

Section 11: Pawing at the Mouth or Face

Dogs with mouth pain will often paw at their snout, lips, or ears. This is them trying to relieve discomfort or direct your attention to the problem area.

Repeated pawing motions, especially focused around one side of the face, are a sign your dog wants you to look closer. There may be an unseen issue like:

  • Trapped food or foreign object
  • Sore tooth, gum or oral ulcer
  • Oral tumor causing irritation

Take note if your dog is suddenly batting at their face frequently. Don’t dismiss it as a harmless tic. Have your vet thoroughly examine your dog’s mouth, teeth, and throat to find the root cause.

Section 12: Weight Loss

Difficulty or reluctance to chew due to oral pain can cause dogs to eat less over time. This gradual decrease in food intake leads to eventual weight loss.

If your dog is dropping weight but their diet hasn’t changed, dental problems may be interfering with their ability to eat properly. Severely infected or damaged teeth are very painful.

Also watch for signs like dropping pieces of kibble while eating, excessive drooling, or favoring one side of the mouth. Weight loss combined with these symptoms warrants a veterinary dental exam.

Section 13: Tooth Root Abscesses

Abscesses are pockets of infected pus that form around the root tip when pulp necrosis occurs deep within a tooth. The swelling puts pressure on surrounding tissues.

You may be able to see a rounded abscess bulging under your dog’s eye or along the jawline. But abscesses often hide unseen under the gums. Significant facial swelling, drooling, and head shyness are common signs.

Abscessed teeth are extremely painful and necessitate extraction to cure the infection. IV antibiotics may be needed to clear sepsis. Diagnose abscesses early before they rupture into the mouth or sinus cavities.


By recognizing potential early signs of dental problems in dogs like bad breath and gum inflammation, owners have the best chance of treating issues before they become severe. Allowing dental disease to progress leads to tooth loss, jaw fracture, infections, and other complications down the road.

Schedule regular veterinary dental checkups so your dog’s teeth stay sparkling clean. Brush your dog’s teeth daily and feed dental chews to help reduce plaque buildup between exams. And be vigilant for any of the concerning symptoms described here that could indicate a problem developing.

With proactive care and early intervention, your beloved pup can enjoy excellent dental health for years to come! Learn here more about pet health tips and wellness guides.