Knowing when your dog has a toothache is not always a straightforward matter. Dogs are particularly good at hiding pain or discomfort, some say due to their evolutionary history in the wolf pack. This means that they may not let you know when they’re experiencing dental issues.

Diagnosing tooth or mouth pain in dogs

Signs that something is amiss with your dog’s oral health have some crossover with our own dental symptoms, so think bad breath, visible bacteria, wincing, or chewing on one side of the mouth.

Other symptoms that dogs may display include excess drooling, reluctance to eat, and sneezing or nasal discharge. Also look out for wincing when they’re touched around the mouth.

Why are dogs susceptible to tooth pain?

It can help to think of your dog’s mouth and nose (their snout) as the equivalent of their hands—it’s their main tool for exploring and understanding the world, picking up objects, and generally navigating their surroundings.

With so much for their mouths to do, it’s not surprising that dogs’ teeth can wear down more quickly than other parts of their body. As a result, it’s estimated that up to 85 percent of pets over three-years-old would benefit from some form of dental routine.

When oral damage is left untreated or monitored, tooth pain begins. The most common underlying reasons behind canine tooth pain are breakages, swollen gums, and a general lack of hygiene (cavities or tartar build-up). If issues continue to go untreated, dogs may develop an infection or other systemic problem.

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Do I need to brush my dog’s teeth?

Yes! Your dog’s teeth are one of its most important assets, so anything you can do to help them retain a working set for life is definitely worth it. That said, many dogs are reasonably responsible when it comes to looking after their own oral health—hence their love for bones, branches, and general chewing.

As an owner, take time to think about your dog’s natural teeth maintenance routine, then work out ways to supplement their behavior. Could they benefit from a manual brushing once per month? Or do they need a few more bones and hard treats?

Home treatments for tooth pain in dogs

While it’s difficult (and not recommended) to tackle the cause of tooth pain at home, there are several steps owners can take to help ease pain for dogs prior to receiving treatment from a veterinarian.

Most human medications are not appropriate for use on dogs—especially NSAIDs, which can prove highly toxic. Instead, stick to these recommend pain relievers:

Here are five tips to prevent tooth pain and keep your dog’s mouth in great condition:

  • 1.Check your dog’s mouth regularly for signs of decay or infection. Ideally, a dog’s mouth will have light pink or black gums, with no sore-looking or red spots. While dog breath isn’t exactly pleasant, there shouldn’t be any seriously repulsive smells going on. As for teeth, check that there’s no discoloration. Brown spots, yellowing, or green tinges can all suggest a damaging build-up of bacteria.

  • 2.Bones and hard treats make for a great toothbrush—and a reward for being a good boy! It might seem strange to think of dogs brushing their own teeth, but a large part of their chewing tendencies is exactly that. Chewing on bones and other natural hard substances helps dogs to remove plaque from their mouths.

  • 3.Give your dog a tooth-friendly diet. A natural diet for a dog includes a good deal of chewy muscle meat and raw bones. Importantly, both of these foods contain live enzymes, which help dogs maintain a hygienic oral environment. While you might not be able to recreate an authentic diet for your pup on a daily basis, try to bear these requirements in mind when selecting the next batch of food for your pet.

  • 4.Consider professional cleaning when necessary. Cleaning by a veterinarian is the closest your dog is likely to get to a yearly dental check-up. As a trained professional, your vet is more likely to be able to spot warning signs and emerging issues. They will also have the tools and know-how to remove plaque and bacteria more efficiently than you or your dog is able to.

  • 5.Don’t use toothpaste made for humans! It might be an obvious point, but it’s worth underlining here: human toothpaste is not intended for use on dogs, and can potentially do a serious amount of damage to your dog’s mouth and digestive system. This is because the majority of human toothpastes contain fluoride, which can be highly poisonous to pups.

So even if you’re considering using an all-natural toothpaste on your dog, be sure to carefully read over the ingredients for any possible toxins.