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7 Subtle Signs Your Dog's Got Some Serious Dental Issues

My husband and I recently adopted (and fell in love with) a sweet senior poodle from our local shelter. It wasn't long after bringing her home that we noticed she was having trouble eating, and would constantly paw at her mouth. Ultimately, she ended up needing about 12 broken teeth removed. Going forward, we're motivated to take care of the teeth she has left with regular brushing and checks. But... what exactly are we supposed to be looking for? Experts weigh in on the signs your dog is experiencing a dental issue and needs a check-up (and thorough cleaning!) ASAP.

As much as we adore our fur babies, life can get busy. Between work, kids, social events, and household responsibilities, it's easy to toss Fido's teeth cleaning reminder from the vet straight in the trash. Don't. "Dental health effects a dog’s overall health. You’ve probably heard your own dentist say this once or twice before: bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and make us sick," Dr. Danielle Bernal, veterinarian with WHIMZEES all-natural daily dental chews, tells Romper. "The same goes for our dogs. Taking care of their teeth and gums can help set the foundation for a healthier life overall." It's crucial to prioritize your dog's teeth in order to avoid a bigger health problem (and a bigger vet bill) down the line – so don't ignore your veterinarian's reminders and keep your eyes peeled for these red flags.


Discolored Teeth

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When I was younger, I once questioned why a friend's dog's teeth looked yellowish and even brown in some places. The explanation I received? "That's just how dog's teeth look!"

Not quite. "The teeth ideally should be white," Sharon L. Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, veterinary doctor with Zoetis tells Romper. "Dental disease in dogs is exactly the same as dental disease in people. If you think about what ‘good’ looks like in people, it would be white teeth." As you examine your dog's mouth, take note of any yellow or brown discoloration. This is a sign that they need a dental cleaning and check-up.


Broken Or Loose Teeth

It would be uncomfortable and unpleasant trying to eat your meals with a loose, wobbly tooth. It would be downright painful to go through your day-to-day with a broken tooth. These scenarios are seen in dogs more than you may realize, and it's important to examine their mouths for both.

"You don’t want to see any broken or chipped teeth – and that’s pretty common, especially dogs that chew on rocks or hard objects such as sticks," Dr. Campbell explains. If your pup is a big chewer, it's extra important to be diligent about checking for broken or loose teeth.


Inflamed Gums

The gums can tell you a lot about your dog's dental health, and it's important you take a look at their gums as you're checking out their teeth. "You’d want to have the gums be nice and pink," says Dr. Campbell, not red or bleed.

As tartar and plague build up on the dog's teeth, it can cause irritation to the gums called gingivitis. This gingivitis can cause gum reddening, irritation, and even bleeding – which, as you can imagine, are incredibly uncomfortable for your dog. While regular brushing helps break up plaque, Dr. Bernal says that dental chews can help clean those hard-to-reach spots.


Bad Breath


You've carefully examined your dog's teeth and even brushed them three times this week like the incredible dog mom you are. So why oh why is their breath still so gross? As it turns out, this halitosis is actually a red flag that something is happening beneath the surface.

"A telltale sign of any type of dental disease is that bad breath," says Dr. Campbell, even if the teeth itself are looking pearly white. "Bad breadth is an indication that there’s some dental disease going on," she says, and warrants a trip to the vet sooner than later.


Reduced Appetite/Refusal To Eat

In my household, meal time is the best time of the day (for the dogs and humans). That's why when our rescue girl started walking away from full bowls of food, we knew something was up. "The dog may drop their food, or the dog may stop eating altogether, and those would all be signs that the dog’s mouth is painful," Dr. Campbell explains.

The only thing worse than having a sore mouth is having a sore mouth and being hungry... so don't waste any time getting your dog to the vet if you notice this.


Excessive Drooling

Sure, some dogs are big droolers as-is, but a sudden increase in drool puddles around the house may indicate that something's up in your dog's mouth. "Dental problems, like periodontal disease and tooth abscesses, can cause some dogs to drool," explained Vet Street. While you may be able to spot a problem on your own, the cause may be invisible to the untrained eye.


Unwillingness To Be Touched

Most dogs never say no to a good head scratch, so take note if your dog suddenly cowers or yelps at your touch. "Dental disease can be very painful, especially if the gums get really inflamed, the tooth is infected, or the tooth is loose," Dr. Campbell says. "In that situation, the dog may shy away from having their head or their mouth touched." Anyone who's ever had a toothache can surely sympathize.

If you notice any of these warning signs in your pet, it's important to call your veterinarian ASAP. And don't feel guilty! "Even those of us who take the best care of our dog’s teeth can still sometimes see cause for concern," says Dr. Berna. By incorporating healthy habits like teeth brushing and dental chews, paying close attention to your fur child's mouth, and taking note of any changes, you can ultimately stop a small problem from becoming a major one.

Edit note: Dr. Sharon Campbell's title has been updated from an earlier version of this article.