What to Do About My Dog’s Rotten Teeth? (Symptoms and Treatment)

Your dog races down the passage to greet you at the door. It stands tall on its hind legs and slobbers you with kisses. And that is when you notice your dog’s awful-smelling breath.

Do not get us wrong; your dog’s breath will never smell pleasant like flowers. But if its breath has started smelling foul, it could indicate a dental issue.

As a responsible pet parent, you must take special care of your dog’s dental health. It is a common belief that pet dogs take care of their teeth by chewing. No, this is not true.

If you are not cleaning your dog’s teeth, they may start to rot. And bad breath is only the first of many symptoms you will notice.

If you are wondering, ‘my dog’s teeth are rotten,’ you may see signs like discolored teeth, inflamed gums, bleeding, and difficulty chewing.

The article will examine the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for a dog’s rotten teeth. We will also look at tips on maintaining your dog’s dental hygiene.

How Do a Dog’s Teeth Look Like?

How Do a Dog's Teeth Look Like
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Before we get into rotten teeth, let us first understand a canine’s normal dental structure.

As a puppy, your pet will have 28 deciduous teeth, which erupt when they are around six to seven weeks old. As the puppy grows, these deciduous teeth are replaced by 42 adult teeth around six to seven months. Your pet should have 20 teeth on the upper jaw and 22 on the lower.

Canines have four types of teeth. The small teeth you see at the front of the dog’s mouth are incisors. They come in handy to scrape meat from bones and for grooming purposes.

Behind the incisors, you will see two long pointed teeth called canine. These teeth are used to tear the meat apart or hold onto objects.

Next behind the canines are the premolars. These sharp-edged sets of teeth are used for shredding food and chewing.

Lastly, there are molars at the back of the row, which are used to break down hard food.

The teeth consist of a crown and a root under the gums. Inside the teeth, from the root to the crown, there is pulp, the living part of the tooth consisting of nerves and blood vessels.

How Do You Know a Dog’s Teeth Are Rotten?

How Do You Know a Dog's Teeth Are Rotten
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Now that we understand a dog’s dental anatomy let us get into rotten teeth.

In canines, you can only see the crown of the teeth, where you will notice signs of degeneration. The dog’s teeth could be covered in plaque. Plaque build-up can harden over time, and the resulting mineral deposit is known as dental calculus. The calculus could be yellow, orange, or brown.

Another indication could be discoloration of the dog’s teeth along the gum line.

The molar and premolar are highly likely to be affected due to their positions in the dog’s mouth. In addition, the area could be difficult to look into. And it may also not get enough attention during the cleaning process.

Your dog’s canine teeth and incisors could also be covered with a plaque in case of poor dental hygiene.

In the initial stages, bacterial plaque could cause the dog’s gum to swell. The gum color could also change from pink to red or purple. This condition is known as gingivitis.

If the condition is ignored for years, the tissue damage could get severe. The resulting condition is known as periodontitis. This can further lead to irreversible damage and loss of teeth.

In periodontitis, the gum line may appear pulled up, and the roots of the teeth may be exposed.

Thus dental checkups must be a part of your dog’s visits to the vet. This will help identify issues earlier on.

Gingivitis is usually detected when the dog is around two years old. If proper care is taken, the dog’s dental condition will improve. If not, periodontitis may be detected when the dog is around 4 to 6 years old.

What Are the Causes of Rotten Teeth in Dogs?

Tooth decay could result from various causes like gum diseases, poor dental hygiene to breed-specific issues. Let us look at some of the top causes that can lead to rotten teeth in dogs.

1. Poor Dental Hygiene

Poor oral health is a persistent problem in the canine world. As mentioned in PetMD, 90% of canines will suffer from some form of periodontal disease by the age of 2 years.

You can easily prevent issues like plaque and tartar build-up with regular brushing and vet visits. Using dental treats or chewing toys alone is not enough.

It would help if you did not ignore plaque and tartar build-up as they can lead to more serious consequences than rotten or loss of teeth.

For example, advanced periodontal diseases can lead to jaw fractures. Tooth root abscesses can rupture and injure the dog’s cheeks and chin. The infection could spread to the dog’s eyes, and in extreme cases, it may lose its eyesight.

If the infection enters the bloodstream, it could increase the chances of kidney, liver, and heart diseases.

2. Genetics

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Short-faced dogs are at a higher risk of developing periodontal disease. Pugs, Shih Tzus, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers, fall under this category of dogs.

One problem with these dogs is that their teeth can get crowded. Food treats or foreign objects can increasingly get trapped between the teeth. You may try brushing and cleaning their teeth, but it may be a task. This, in turn, can cause plaque build-up, which can lead to periodontal diseases.

Another problem with these breeds is known as malocclusions. In this condition, the dog’s teeth do not line up properly. Appearance-wise this is not an issue, but the improper placement of teeth could lead to trauma.

Toys and other small dog breeds are also at risk of dental disorders. In these dogs, their deciduous teeth do not fall out quickly. This causes problems for the adult teeth to erupt. Like in the brachycephalic breeds, small dogs also face the issue of overcrowding.

Another breed that is prone to dental problems is Dachshund. The narrow muzzle of the dog leads to misalignment and overcrowding.

If periodontal diseases are not treated in Dachshunds, they can lead to oronasal fistulas. They are holes that develop between the mouth and nasal passageway. Dogs that have oronasal fistulas can have chronic sneezing and discharge.

3. Developmental Abnormalities

The cause for unerupted teeth can have a genetic component to it. For example, small and brachycephalic breeds are prone to this condition. But other dog breeds can also have to deal with unerupted teeth.

As the adult teeth stay under the gum line, they can turn into cysts and lead to jaw issues. It is recommended that such dogs be spayed or neutered so the condition does not pass on to the offspring.

A dog’s mouth develops in three stages. Developmental abnormalities can occur at any of these stages.

For example, stage one lasts between the ages of 0 to 16 weeks. Puppies are born with an overbite, meaning their upper jaws are longer than the lower ones. As the puppy starts on solid food, the lower jaw goes through a growth spurt.

If the puppy’s lower teeth develop before the lower jaw grows, the teeth can get caught behind the upper teeth. This, in turn, will hinder the growth of the lower jaw. The dog will then have an overbite.

Alternatively, if the lower jaw grows too fast for the upper jaw, the upper teeth can get stuck behind the lower ones. The dog will then have an underbite.

In stage two, if the deciduous teeth have not fallen off, then issues like malocclusions can occur. Another problem during this stage is the abnormal positioning of the canine teeth.

Finally, in stage three, incorrect teeth placement can be an issue.

The dog’s tooth enamel can grow thin and weak due to the canine distemper virus and other fever-causing conditions. The virus can attack the cells producing enamel and causing permanent damage. Malnutrition can also be the reason for enamel defects in dogs.

4. Trauma or Injury

Your dog’s teeth could get injured due to a fall, a fight with other animals, or a car accident. It is uncommon, but your dog could injure its teeth trying to chew or chomp on a hard object.

Your dog’s teeth can get fractured due to the impact of the injury. Now the fracture could affect the outer crown, or it could extend to the pulp. If the pulp is affected, the dog will be in a lot of pain.

If your dog’s gums are wounded, or there are cuts or bleeding, then vet care is necessary. If the wound is left as is, it could lead to infection and affect teeth from root to crown.

What Are the Symptoms of Rotten Teeth in Dogs?

What Are the Symptoms of Rotten Teeth in Dogs

As mentioned above, bad breath, puffy gums, and teeth discoloration are signs that could confirm your theory that ‘my dog’s teeth are rotten.’

Here are some more symptoms that a dog suffering from dental issues can show.

In the initial stages of periodontal disease, bad breath, red and swollen gums, and bleeding during brushing or chewing are the signs a dog may show.

As the condition progresses, you may notice moderate gum recession, loose teeth, discharge, tooth root exposure, and tooth loss.

Some other signs may include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Bloody saliva
  • Chronic sneezing
  • Head shyness
  • Blood on chew toys

As rotting teeth can be painful, you may also notice behavioral changes in your dog. For example, the dog may eat using only one side of the mouth, or if the pain is too much, it may shy away from eating hard food like kibble.

Your dog may not let you brush its teeth as before. The manual brushing motion may be too much for the pet to bear. It may not allow you to touch anywhere around its mouth in severe cases. It may flinch or move its head away if you try to check its teeth.

You may find the dog has lost interest in its usual activities. Its favorite chew toy may lay abandoned. It may be reluctant to play games like fetch and tug of war, where it would be forced to use its mouth.

The dog may also seem reserved. If the pain is too much, it may get aggressive and unintentionally hurt if you try to force open its mouth.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it would be best to visit the vet.

What Treatment is Available for a Dog’s Rotten Teeth?

The treatment depends on the condition and when it is detected. Here are some treatment options available according to the cause.

1. Gingivitis

If gingivitis is detected before it turns periodontal, professional teeth cleaning can help.

The vet will clean the dog’s teeth under anesthesia. The teeth will be cleaned below the gum line.

The vet may apply a sealant after the process to prevent plaque build-up.

2. Periodontitis

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If the dog’s condition has progressed to periodontitis, then thorough professional teeth cleaning will be the first line of care.

Next, the vet may take x-rays to know the extent of the damage. Extraction may be necessary if the tooth root is damaged or the pulp is affected.

Lastly, the vet may also look at fixing the underlying issue like misalignment or overcrowding.

3. Unerupted Teeth

In an ideal situation, your dog’s adult teeth should erupt around six to seven months. If you see any teeth missing, then consult with your vet.

The vet will take x-rays to identify the issue. Then, unerupted teeth will have to be extracted, or they could lead to jaw damage.

4. Overbite/Underbite


In case of an overbite, the vet may remove a few of the lower deciduous teeth to help the lower jaw grow to its normal length.

In an underbite, the vet may remove a few of the upper deciduous teeth to help the lower jaw grow to its normal length.

The treatment works best if the issue is caught in the earlier stages of tooth growth. Thus it is essential to keep up with vet visits during your puppy’s development cycle.

5. Abnormal Teeth Positioning

There are several treatment options available depending on the position of the tooth. For example, the vet may use braces to fix the alignment issue with the teeth.

If an overbite is identified in the later stages of tooth growth, the vet will place a special plate in the dog’s mouth to fix the issue.

6. Weak Enamel

If your dog’s tooth enamel did not develop well during the growth stage, the vet might bond synthetic materials to improve the durability of the teeth.

How to Take Care of Your Dog’s Dental Health?

How to Take Care of Your Dog's Dental Health

When it comes to dental issues, preventative care is the best form of defense. It can save your dog from pain, tooth loss, and permanent damage. It can also save you money, as dental care can be expensive.

Here are a few ways to take care of your dog’s dental health.

1. Regularly Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

You can start brushing your dog’s teeth around the age of six to seven months when all its adult teeth have erupted. You first need to get the dog comfortable with the toothpaste and toothbrush.

You could start by opening the dog’s mouth and using the finger brush or the toothbrush. This will make the dog comfortable with the texture and the brushing motion. Next, let it lick some toothpaste to know what it tastes like.

You have to be patient during this process. Some dogs may take to brushing while others may need weeks and still struggle with the toothpaste or brush.

According to AKC, you should try to brush your dog’s teeth a minimum of 3 to 4 times a week. The motion of manual brushing is the best way to care for your pet’s teeth at home.

Always use dog-safe toothpaste. Never use toothpaste meant for humans as it may contain xylitol, and the ingredient can be toxic for dogs.

If your dog is fussy about taste or does not like the typical mint-flavored version, then look for poultry or meat-flavored toothpaste.

2. Use Other Dental Care Products

You can use several dental chews and treats, chew toys, rinses, wipes, and brushes to keep your dog’s teeth clean.

For example, there are dental treats available that may help reduce plaque and tartar build-up. One type is the rawhide chews, which can be made with cow or horse hide.

Then there are edible dog treats which are nutritious and have unique designs. The product, along with the chewing action, helps clean teeth and freshen your dog’s breath.

Always buy treats according to your pet’s age and size. The treats can be a choking hazard if you do not select the appropriate size. Also, avoid treats that are too hard, or the dog could end up fracturing its tooth.

Then there are oral care gels that can be directly applied to your dog’s teeth. There are solutions available that you can add to the pet’s water.

3. Professional Dental Cleanings

Professional Dental Cleanings
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Regular dental cleanings at the vet’s office can go a long way in preventing tooth damage in the future. According to AAHA, toy and small dog breeds should get their teeth cleaned professionally from one year onwards. And medium and large breed dogs can start at about the age of 2 years.

Professional cleaning is a must if you own a breed prone to dental problems, like Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, and Pugs. Brushing or dental treats and chewing toys will not alone prevent dental issues.

During a professional cleaning, the vet will first put the dog under anesthesia and then clean the dog’s teeth above and below the gum line.

Is Anesthesia Necessary for Professional Dental Cleaning

The fear of anesthesia is one of the common reasons why pets do not receive adequate dental care.

Most pets do well under anesthesia. The vet’s office will take adequate precautions before administering any drug to your pet.

For example, your pet will go through a physical test. Next, its blood will be tested to see if it has any disease that could lead to complications.

An intravenous catheter will be in place during the procedure if any issues arise. In addition, the dog’s vital signs, like heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and temperature, will be monitored during the cleaning.

Without anesthesia, the vet cannot perform a thorough evaluation. The cleaning that may follow is not safe or effective.

Anesthesia becomes necessary as the pet will likely not let the vet poke around its mouth for long. Also, taking x-rays requires the dog to stay still.

As dental cleaning involves going below the gum line, the procedure can be uncomfortable or painful if the dog is alert. It certainly will not sit tight through such a situation.

In most cases, the dog recovers from anesthesia about 20 minutes after the procedure. Then, after a few hours of rest, the dog should be ready to get home.

Talk to your vet, and discuss any concerns you have. Do not let the fear of anesthesia prevent your dog from getting necessary medical and dental care.


Does your dog’s breath smell foul? Are some of your dog’s teeth losing color? Are its gums red and puffy? If yes, you could be right about wondering if my dog’s teeth are rotten.

Rotten teeth could result from poor dental hygiene, breed-specific issues, developmental abnormalities, and trauma or injury.

Such dogs may show signs like drooling, bleeding gums, excessive sneezing, and bloody saliva. You may also notice behavioral changes like refusal to eat, pulling away when you try to touch its muzzle, reluctance to play, or even aggressiveness.

Treatment for dental issues involves professional cleanings, extractions, surgery, sealants, and fluoride treatments, among others. Preventative care in the form of brushing, dental chews, and treats would be the best.

If you notice signs of dental decay, please get in touch with the vet immediately.

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