Do Dogs and Cats Grind Their Teeth?

The answer to this question is yes. Although uncommon, dogs and cats may grind their teeth. The medical term for teeth grinding is bruxism, which occurs in humans and animals. 

What Is Bruxism?

Bruxism involves the rhythmic, involuntary, or habitual grinding of teeth during waking and sleeping hours. If excessive, bruxism can lead to dental problems, jaw disorders, potential headaches, and additional concerns over time. 

Bruxism occurs when the top teeth rub against the bottom teeth in a side-to-side motion vs. up and down. Constant grinding of teeth will cause dental wear, which is called attrition. Teeth with chronic wear can become non-vital, requiring either a root canal or extraction therapy. Over time, bruxism can lead to discomfort in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ is the joint that connects the skull to the jawbones. This crucial joint is responsible for opening and closing the mouth.

Attrition is often mislabeled as abrasion, an additional type of tooth wear. Abrasion occurs when an extraoral substance causes wear. Common causes of abrasion include chronic chewing on hard substrates (e.g., tennis balls and wood) and overgrooming. Dogs and cats with skin allergies will often overgroom, leading to abrasion. Cats may overgroom with abdominal or urinary bladder discomfort. Bruxism can occur in all breeds of dogs and cats and is typically due to an underlying oral or gastrointestinal disorder.

Common causes of bruxism are outlined below:

  1. Dental Issues: Pain or discomfort in the mouth can lead to bruxism. Examples include periodontal disease, broken teeth, oral masses, oral ulcerations, and malocclusions. 
  2. Malocclusion: Misalignment of the teeth or jaw can cause grinding as the animal tries to find a comfortable position for the teeth. 
  3. Stress or Anxiety: Changes in their environment and anxiety may trigger bruxism, similarly as in humans.  
  4. Pain: Pain in other body locations, such as the ears and gastrointestinal tract, can manifest as teeth grinding. 

Clinical Signs

Clinical signs associated with bruxism in people include jaw pain, headache, and tooth wear. The same may be present in dogs and cats, but observing can be challenging. The owner may notice tooth wear during oral home care or when the patient’s mouth is open, such as when panting. 

An oral exam with imaging is recommended if bruxism is suspected. A veterinarian or veterinary dental specialist can complete a detailed oral exam under anesthesia. Dental radiographs help identify periodontal disease. Imaging is imperative, as 60% of the tooth structure in dogs and cats is under the gumline. The limitation of dental radiographs is that they are a 2-D image of the teeth and jaw structures. Pathology may be easily missed. Cone Beam CT imaging is a 3-D evaluation of the maxillofacial structures completed in minutes. This diagnostic modality allows a detailed review of the tooth and surrounding bone structures. In specialty dentistry, cone beam CT imaging (CBCT) is generally the preferred imaging for the oral cavity. Skull radiographs are no longer considered appropriate imaging for dentition due to their poor diagnostic yield. 

If an owner notices teeth grinding, A COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment & Treatment) is recommended to identify an underlying oral cause. If the jaws or teeth are misaligned, orthodontic treatment can be instituted to correct the abnormality. Dental imaging and the anesthetized oral exam will help to identify anomalies. Treatment is dependent on the anomalies that are detected. If dental abnormalities are not detected, then additional diagnostic recommendations are provided. 

Veterinary Dentist in Bozeman

At Montana Pet Dentistry and Oral Surgery, we believe animals deserve a pain-free and comfortable mouth. If you notice your pet displaying signs of bruxism, please call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. Your pet’s oral health needs and comfort are our #1 priority.  


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (5/10/2024). Photo by Karin Hiselius on Unsplash