Why do dogs grind their teeth?

Updated November 21, 2016

Canine teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a common sign of oral pain or stress and may indicate several different orthodontic issues. Left untreated, it can worsen over time and result in more serious problems for the dog. An associated inflammation of gum tissue is often present and delineates the spots at which misaligned teeth are irritating the mouth.


Canine bruxism is characterised by the literal side to side grinding of teeth. It's usually accompanied by a grating sound, although that isn't always the case. Thickened gum tissue on the outside and inside of the mouth often results from the condition and compounds its discomforting effects. The condition usually starts with tooth-to-tooth contact and escalates to tooth-to-soft tissue. In some cases there are no signs of swelling in the mouth, in which case the problem is usually related to the gastrointestinal system.


Teeth grinding is primarily caused by misaligned teeth. That is often genetic in nature, although acquired sores or lesions in the mouth can result in a similar phenomenon. Stress is also a contributing factor, as is the case with human bruxism. Gastrointestinal discomfort also results in bruxism and has accompanying bouts of poor appetite or vomiting.


Bruxism can result in severe dental ware, cracked teeth, exposed roots, and thickened gum tissue. All of those conditions can lead to pain, discomfort, and eating problems. The last of those is especially problematic, as it affects overall dog health. The accompanying inflamed gum tissue often exacerbates and compounds the problem.


When a dog begins grinding its teeth, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. A full examination includes visual assessment as well as X-rays. Poorly aligned teeth can usually be correct with canine orthodontia, although the exact course of treatment depends on the severity of the condition. If the problem is neurological in nature, anti-anxiety medication or behavioural therapy may be required. In the case of gastrointestinal problems, once the condition has been diagnosed and treated, bruxism usually ceases.


There are a wide range of canine orthodontic issues, thus vets often recommend consulting a specialist in canine dental problems. Bruxism is painful and does not usually go away by itself; however, because a dog's jaws do no grow evenly, puppies and younger dogs often display discomfort that they may literally grow out of. Still, it's best to consult a vet immediately when a dog displays regular signs of bruxism.

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