If your dog suddenly growled or dodged your affectionate head pats or left scattered pieces of kibble on the kitchen floor during mealtime, the cause may not be due to a testy temperament or a finicky attitude. If you noticed one side of his face seems swollen, or you spotted bloodstains on his favorite chew toy, reach out to your veterinarian. These are definite signs that your dog may be in pain, due to a broken canine tooth, bleeding gums, a root-exposed back molar or other oral health issue. In honor of National Pet Dental Health Month, let’s look at some dog dental issues — and some of the latest advancements in the field.
“The No. 1 disease in dogs is periodontal disease, and untreated periodontal disease destroys structures and leads to fractures of the jaw,” declares Dale Kressin, D.V.M., D.A.V.D.C., F.A.V.D., a veterinary dentist who operates Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery Specialists in Oshkosh and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “You need to look inside your dog’s mouth to spot any issues. And the easiest way to look is when you are brushing your dog’s teeth. If you can’t see teeth because they are covered in plaque and calculus (tartar) or your dog’s breath is strong enough to stop a train, you need to contact your veterinarian immediately. Taking this action just may save your dog’s life.”
Looking and sniffing inside a dog’s mouth and, yes, regular teeth brushing rarely rank high on the list of favorite activities to perform on dogs. But such preventive care along with regular professional dental cleanings performed in veterinary clinics can impact your dog’s quality of life. “There is a direct connection between oral health and overall health,” says Bonnie Shope, D.V.M., D.A.V.D.C., a veterinary dentist and owner of Veterinary Dental Services in Boxborough, Massachusetts. “Periodontal disease causes chronic inflammation and causes the body’s immune system to respond to plaque in the mouth.”
All dogs have 42 adult teeth, but their jaws vary in size and shape. That explains why breeds like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Labradoodles and Goldendoodles are more prone to overbites while Boxers, Shih Tzus, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers contend more with underbite issues, Dr. Shope says. “Overbite and underbite conditions can cause oral trauma and pain,” she says. “For example, in brachycephalic dogs (those with short muzzles), sometimes the maxillary incisor teeth damage the gums, teeth and bones supporting the lower incisor or canine teeth. This can cause ulceration, tooth mobility, root resorption and loss of teeth.”
Fortunately, veterinary dentistry is expanding in the number of specialists and in scope. By modifying tools and techniques from human dentistry, veterinary dentists are able to successfully perform complex procedures on dogs more thoroughly and often in shorter time today.
“We have adapted our veterinary dental instruments from those that originated from human dental instruments,” Dr. Shope says. “Ours tend to be much smaller and finer.”
Yep, nowadays dogs can and do wear braces. They do get root canals and crowns. And they do undergo surgical procedures to correct underbites and overbites in growing numbers.
In a recent week, for example, Dr. Shope removed oral masses, extracted fractured teeth, treated an overbite and combated periodontal disease in canines ranging from young puppies to senior dogs. And, that is all she can rattle off from the top of her head without looking at her patient charts.
Dr. Kressin says, “In the past few years, the field of veterinary dentistry has been making unprecedented strides in terms of speed and efficiency of care due to the arrival of better materials, tools and techniques. In the future, I see not only veterinary dentistry growing, but the arrival of sub-specialties in our specialty, like exotic dentistry to treat rabbits, rodents and other species.”
Dale Kressin, D.V.M., has been on a mission to educate veterinarians and dog breeders about the importance of dental health for more than a decade.
Rather than give a PowerPoint presentation in which he talks to his audience, he brings models
of different synthetic skulls of dogs that cover various sized breeds, from German Shepherd Dogs and Salukis to Pugs.
“All dogs have 42 teeth but these models quickly show people how different the jaws are and the relationship of the teeth,” he says. “These models help people get a better visual picture of the potential dental problems that can occur in different breeds.”
Arden Moore, The Pet Health and Safety Coach™, is a pet behavior consultant, master certified pet first aid instructor, author and host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at ardenmoore.com.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!
Thumbnail: Photography ©mariakbell | Thinkstock.
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