If your dog had a toothache, would you know? If their gums were receding and painful, could you tell? Probably not.
To find out why, WebMD talked with veterinary dentists. They shared their thoughts on recognizing the early signs of oral problems in dogs and offered tips on what you can do today to help keep your four-legged friend's teeth in great shape.
1. Understand Your Pooch's Mouth
Just like people, dogs can break or fracture their teeth. And just like us, they can also get gum disease. Dogs are five times more likely to get gum disease than humans for a couple of reasons. First, dogs have a more alkaline mouth, which promotes plaque formation. Second, unlike humans, dogs usually don't have their teeth brushed daily.
"Plaque is made up of saliva, food debris, sloughed cells from the lining of the mouth, oral bacteria, and their by-products," says Colleen O'Morrow, DVM, a fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry and a veterinary dentist practicing in Manitoba, Canada. "As the plaque thickens from not being brushed away on a regular daily basis, the bacteria multiply."
Once the bacteria multiply, the problems do, too. As the bacteria increase, your dog’s mouth mobilizes cells to fight the invasion. Those mobilized cells and the bacteria combine to cause inflammation and tissue destruction in your dog's mouth. As the inflammation and tissue destruction progress, they destroy bone, which ultimately leads to tooth loss -- and a lot of pain for your pooch.
2. Be Aware: Dogs Rarely Show Signs of Dental Pain
Even with a cracked tooth or periodontal disease that damages gums around the teeth, your dog would probably eat normally, wiggle happily at your return home, and overall act like the same dog you know and love.
Your pet may be in chronic pain, but you wouldn’t know it. Why? Dogs have evolved to hide such chronic pain. Their animal instinct is not to show signs of weakness.
"In my experience the No. 1 sign of periodontal disease is no signs at all," says Brett Beckman, DVM, FAVD, DAVDC, DAAPM, a veterinary dentist who practices in Florida and Georgia.
"The number of patients I see a year that come in because there is pain is less than 5%," says Beckman, while more than 80% of dogs have periodontal disease by the time they're 3 years old. "I really want to get that point across," says Beckman, "there are almost always no signs at all" of dental pain.