If your pet could open wide and say “Aah,” what would her mouth look like? Pets can hide pain well, and they usually make it hard for you to see their teeth, so dental problems may go undetected until they begin to compromise your pet’s health, or are discovered during a wellness exam. Following are five commonly diagnosed dental problems that our veterinary team believes you should know all about.
#1: Periodontal disease in pets
Periodontal disease, the most common dental problem affecting pets, occurs when bacteria combine with food, and plaque and tartar accumulate on the teeth, leading to gum inflammation, and bone and ligament damage around the teeth. Many affected pets show no signs, while others may have difficulty eating, face swelling, or bad breath. For diagnosis, our veterinarians perform an awake oral exam on your pet, and then make a management of periodontal disease plan, which generally includes a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment (COHAT) performed under general anesthesia, for your pet’s safety and comfort, and a daily at-home dental regimen that includes toothbrushing and/or oral-health products proven to be effective against plaque and tartar buildup.
#2: Tooth resorption in cats
Tooth resorption occurs in cats when the body begins to break down a tooth, creating a hole in the tooth near the gumline and/or converting the tooth root into bone. Many theories, ranging from inflammation to altered oral pH, exist, but no definitive cause has been found. Depending on the resorption’s extent and location, and because cats hide pain well, some cats show no outward signs, while others have bloody saliva, difficult eating, or behavior changes. As part of the COHAT, our veterinary team will use dental X-rays, taken while your pet is under general anesthesia, to diagnose tooth resorption, and then extract the affected teeth to prevent further pain. Since affected cats often will suffer resorption of other teeth, regular COHATs are needed for ongoing detection and management.
#3: Stomatitis in cats
Stomatitis (i.e., inflammation of the oral cavity) is a painful condition caused when a cat’s immune system overreacts to plaque on the teeth, due to the influence of viruses, periodontal disease, or genetics. Affected cats have red, thick, ulcerated, painful tissue in the back of their oral cavity, which may lead to a refusal to eat, poor grooming, behavior changes, or drooling. Based on the stomatitis severity, our veterinarians will develop a management plan that may include antibiotics, pain medication, and immunosuppressants, although these may not help. Removing all the teeth behind the canines to eliminate the surfaces where plaque would accumulate, and thus permanently resolve the stomatitis, is sometimes the best procedure for pain relief.
#4: Retained baby teeth in pets
Normally, a baby tooth falls out as it’s replaced by the adult tooth, but if not, this may cause the adult tooth to grow in at an abnormal angle or location and interfere with the pet’s bite, causing discomfort. Also, more plaque can accumulate when two teeth are crammed into one space, leading to periodontal disease at a younger age. Owners of small-breed or brachycephalic (i.e., smushed-faced) pets should be especially vigilant, as these pets more commonly retain baby teeth, especially the canines. If you suspect an issue, don’t delay getting your pet examined, because the earlier the retained baby tooth is extracted, the more likely the adult tooth will come in correctly and be healthy.
#5: Fractured teeth in dogs
Dog fights, trauma, or chewing on hard substances can fracture a tooth, exposing the highly sensitive, inner section to the oral environment, which may cause the tooth roots to become infected. Since dogs are skilled at hiding pain, some may show few signs, while others will have swollen faces, salivate excessively, or be reluctant to eat or chew on the affected side. Once we discover a fractured tooth, we will take dental X-rays while your pet is under general anesthesia to determine the tooth’s health and viability, and then recommend treatment—usually extraction, or root-canal therapy. Help prevent tooth fractures by providing your pet with soft, pliable toys rather than hard chewing devices like sticks, rawhide, or antlers.
Many conditions can compromise your pet’s teeth and mouth, often without your knowledge, so schedule a consultation with our skilled veterinary team to ensure your pet’s good dental health.