Pets Hide Their Painful Toothaches

Dogs hide their tooth painBy Donnell Hansen, DVM, DAVDC

Did you know, most pets do not show signs of oral pain, and indeed, continue eating even when a painful dental problem exists? Many families who come to visit me comment on how they do not think anything is wrong with their beloved four-legged friend. They often say, “But he is playing and has no problem chowing down his kibble!”

Consider this: When I was in college, I only chewed on the right side of my mouth for months. I was putting off getting a cavity filled, but wanted to continue to eat my favorite watermelon Laffy Taffy®. Even with my aching tooth, I still ate breakfast, went to class and laughed with my friends, similar to how dogs continue to eat and play outside, despite oral pain.

Dogs and cats are hardwired to hide their pain and weakness. It’s much easier to see your pet limping and realize he has a leg injury than it is to figure out dental pain is causing your cat to hide under the bed or your dog to be less tolerant of your kids. Other ways your pet may express pain include dropping food, chewing on one side, drooling or finicky eating. If your pet exhibits any worrisome behavior, it’s best to take her to your family veterinarian for an exam. Your pet’s doctor can determine if dental care is needed (and in some cases, refer you to a board-certified veterinary dentist for further care).

It is important to know, even if your pet seems to be doing great, an annual oral exam and dental cleaning is still indicated. We never know what we are going to find once we can really look at those teeth and take dental X-rays. Annual preventive care is more cost-effective and patient friendly than waiting until problems arise.

Like humans, dogs and cats are prone to conditions like periodontal disease and abscessed teeth. In addition, they can have painful malocclusions (a.k.a. bad bite). For example, sometimes a dog’s canine tooth – the one designed to grasp and rip tissue – can aim in the wrong direction and hit the roof of his mouth every time he closes his mouth or chews. Aside from the chronic pain of having a sharp object strike the palate, the long-term risk is the tooth will create an actual hole extending from the mouth to the nose.

It’s important not to delay dental care because not only is your pet in pain (regardless of his/her stoicism), but there is also mounting evidence in human healthcare that the condition of the mouth can have significant ramifications on the rest of the body. There are correlations linking dental disease with stroke, pancreatic cancer, premature births and more. In veterinary medicine we are seeing how good oral health can improve overall health (and most definitely, a better quality of life). Many families will notice a big difference in their pets after I have extracted an abscessed tooth or performed a root canal of their fractured canine tooth.

If you share your home with a four-legged friend, daily brushing (yes, you can brush most dog’s and cat’s teeth!) can make a big difference in their dental health. While you are in there, look for any growths, fractured teeth, discolored teeth, bad odor, gingivitis or reluctance to allow brushing in a particular area. If you notice these concerns, or any changing conditions, schedule an exam with your family veterinarian.

Just as you visit your dentist regularly , don’t forget to also schedule your pet’s annual oral exam and cleaning. And, don’t let the need for anesthesia stop you. We have made great strides in the safety of anesthesia. Your pet will thank you with fresh breath!