Dental Disease

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Murphy is a 14 year old female Bassett Hound who presented to the Rt 516 Animal Hospital for difficulty eating, severe malodor from her mouth and a large swelling on the right side of her face, near her cheek. Upon examination, Murphy’s swelling proved to be a tooth root abscess. These are pockets of infection caused by bacteria found in tartar in our pets’ mouths. As the bacteria replicate and white blood cells rush to the source of infection, the cellular build-up will cause the breakdown of tissue lying between the roots of problematic teeth and nasal cavities, sinuses, or skin. Abscesses can disintegrate these tissues and eventually result in the flow of pus into the sinuses or even externally onto the nose and face. They are extremely painful due to both the build-up of pressure from the pus and also from the stimulation of sensitive nerves that lie at the tooth’s root.

Periodontal disease can occur at any age and in any species and breed. Some risk factors which can put pets at risk for tooth root abscesses include broken teeth, lack of adequate preventative dental care, long term steroid use, Diabetes and Cushing’s disease. Murphy’s tooth root abscess was secondary to her chronic, severe dental disease. Her teeth were covered with layers of tartar, hair and grass which in turn resulted in severe tooth decay, gingivitis and periodontal disease. The bacteria caused the breakdown of the ligaments holding her teeth in place and therefore several were loose, contained deep caries (dental decay) and were extremely painful to her. Murphy was placed immediately on antibiotics and scheduled for oral surgery. Twenty-one of her teeth (half in her mouth) were extracted and the remaining teeth were ultrasonically scaled and then polished. The swelling went down immediately and Murphy was much more comfortable as her gums began the healing process.

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Dental disease is a preventable condition. You should brush your pets’ teeth at least three times weekly along the gum line with a soft toothbrush. Do not use commercial human toothpaste as it can cause an upset stomach in animals. Special pet toothpaste is available which comes in flavors such as beef and chicken to make the process more enjoyable. It is easiest to start brushing your pets’ teeth when they are young puppies and kittens. They will become accustomed to the sensation and learn to enjoy the attention (especially if is followed by a treat). Your pets’ dental health should be evaluated by your veterinarian once to twice yearly. She will determine if your pet will need to undergo anesthesia and further dental diagnostics and treatment. The degree of dental disease can be evaluated through dental radiography and by measuring the gingival recession and bone loss by using a periodontal probe.

The key to good dental health is prevention. Long standing tooth decay and gingivitis increases the likelihood of tooth root abscesses, halitosis, pain, and inevitably, extractions (see photos 1 and 2). Even more critical is preventing the spread of bacteria into the bloodstream and to major organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. Taking proper care of your pets’ teeth will allow for routine dental scaling and polishing without the need for extractions or oral surgery. (See photos 3 and 4). After a routine cleaning is performed, a special sealant called Oravet can be placed along the teeth, which inhibits the attachment of plaque. We can also provide you with Oravet to apply weekly at home, along with a variety of other dental products to meet your pets’ special needs.

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If you notice any odor from your pets’ mouth, difficulty chewing, weight loss, an obviously broken tooth, tartar/calculus build-up, or a painful swelling in the cheek area, make an appointment immediately with your veterinarian for a full checkup and oral exam. Proper dental care will not only help them live longer, healthier lives, it can make those pet kisses much nicer.

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