You probably associate grinding teeth with anger, because that’s what people do. But dogs grinding teeth doesn’t necessarily mean anger!
There are plenty of behaviors we see in both humans and animals, but the reason behind them is usually very different.
Dogs will usually grind their teeth because of bodily problems. These could be either oral pain, misaligned teeth, anxiety or even pain or discomfort in their stomach or intestines. Vets refer to this tooth grinding as bruxism.
Teeth grinding in dogs is usually a sign that there is another health condition to keep an eye on, so you must know what to keep an eye out for.
We looked into a number of dog behaviors to understand why they grind their teeth and how that may affect them. We’ve collected our findings into one place here.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the word given to teeth grinding. This is where the upper and lower rows of teeth rub together in a horizontal motion, rather than the vertical one that occurs with chewing.
Dogs that show bruxism must be taken to the doctor as soon as possible, since it is a clear indicator that something is wrong.
Risks of Bruxism
While bruxism is a sign that there is something else wrong, which must be identified, it is also a problem in itself.
Teeth grinding is horrible for dental care, since it can erode the enamel on the teeth, which can result in your dog being in immense pain. On top of that, grinding can also cause fractures, especially if it becomes habitual, which can result in infections.
When the tooth becomes fractures and the enamel wears off, the pulp can get exposed. This can cause your dog excruciating pain, and should be stopped before it becomes a habit.
And to top it all off, because grinding puts stress on the joint of the jaw itself, it can also cause joint problems like arthritis.
The problem is that even with all the problems that come out of bruxism, most dog owners are not aware of it for a long time. In fact, because dogs grind their teeth subtly, you may only hear it very faintly at first. You may also not notice the movement in the mouth at all unless you pay very close attention.
But why does bruxism exist to begin with?
Why Do Dogs Grind Their Teeth?
Dogs don’t actually grind their teeth the way humans do. When we consider teeth grinding, we imagine anger and agitation since that is what we are used to. Dogs are different from us though, and they grind their teeth for completely different reasons.
Not all dogs grind their teeth either. Most will actually not grind their teeth, unless something is wrong. There may be plenty of reasons they exhibit such behavior.
Dogs don’t exhibit symptoms of pain the same way humans do. In fact, most animals, including dogs, will try to hide their pain as much as possible. This has to do with their survival instincts – if they exhibit any sign of vulnerability or weakness, predators can take advantage of them. Even in the safety of your home, your dog’s survival instincts will kick in, and they will try to hide their pain.
This makes it difficult for us, as their owners, to understand when they are in pain and help manage it. This is why we need to be extra vigilant and keep an eye on them to make sure they are not suffering.
As such, in trying to hide their discomfort, they will try to alleviate it in whatever way they can think of. Most often, when facing oral pain, they will grind their teeth together to try and get rid of it. In some cases, noticing your dog grinding their teeth is one of the only signs you may get that there is something wrong.
Oral pain can be caused by a number of reasons. This could be periodontal disease, oral infections, cavities, growths, tumors, or any other reason. Sometimes puppies will grind their teeth together if they have a loose tooth, or while teething. Most times, this is just a phase that they grow out of, but if you notice it as a continuous act – especially in adult dogs – you should be getting it checked out with a vet.
Malocclusion is the term used to refer to crooked teeth or ‘poor bites’. This has to do with how the lower and upper teeth are aligned. Misaligned teeth will keep the jaw from closing properly, which can make the teeth grind over each other. With malocclusions, grinding is involuntary and is a part of your dog’s normal mouth movement.
Regardless, you should get it checked out even if you know the cause behind it.
Another reason dogs could grind their teeth together is because of pain in any other part of their body. With oral pain, grinding may have been an attempt to alleviate it. However, with pain in other parts, this may be an attempt to try and make the pain more manageable. Just like we humans clench our fests when we are in pain, dogs may grind their teeth together as a distraction.
Gastrointestinal problems can make dogs very uncomfortable, and they have no way to get rid of the pain either. We, as their owners, are also unable to figure out the cause when the problem is internal.
Stress or Anxiety
Again, as a method to distract themselves from the pain, dogs may grind their teeth. This is less common as a reaction to stressors in canines, but it does occur. Bruxism due to anxiety usually happens when your dog is sleeping, so if you notice your dog grinding their teeth during their sleep, you may want to consider reasons they may be stressed out.
What To Do If You Catch Your Dog Grinding Their Teeth
Again, it is difficult to actually notice the bruxism in your dog since they are so subtle about it. But if you do notice it, no matter how mild you think the problem is, you should take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Your vet will give your dog a check up to see if there are any health problems that need to be addressed, and if the dog’s grinding has caused any damage to the teeth so far. Depending on the results of the check up, your dog may need further treatment, such as oral examination or treatment.
If the problem lies in your dog’s health, the vet will let you know how to alleviate pain with medication or other kinds of therapy. If the problem is related to anxiety or stress, the vet will also be able to tell you how to fix the problem by adjusting the environment, or through medication.
Anxious dogs may also need behavioral therapy to help them relax and let go of their stress.
It is always helpful and important to be vigilant when it comes to pain symptoms in your dog. When humans are sick, we tend to suffer from other kinds of bodily reactions too, such as headaches or fatigue. Your dog may be the same, but is able to hide it much better than you can.
By identifying the problem of bruxism and its underlying cause, you can address the issue at hand and prevent any comorbid troubles that may come up.
So, dogs will grind their teeth for two main reasons: either they are in pain, or they are stressed. Regardless of which one of these the reason is, the best course of action is to take your dog to the vet to address the problem. Bruxism, when left alone and untreated, can have severe consequences on your dog’s dental health and therefore, their overall wellness.
About THE AUTHOR
I have had dogs my whole life and have always trained my own dogs with patience and positive reinforcement. My dogs are my life. My family always had dogs growing up. I've trained dogs for clients while working at a local dog daycare. I hope that my research and experiences are helpful to you as I share them here.Read More About Russell Wright