I pride myself on being a pretty good pet owner. I’m sure many of you can relate. We provide the best food, the acupuncture treatments, the dog seat belt in the car, the boots and coats in winter. I also have the advantage of working in the best emergency and specialty center in the state (although I may be a little biased…). I work with an amazing veterinary health care team and brilliant specialists who help me keep my pets healthy – but I do have to bring them in for an examination for that to pan out.
I know that sounds pretty elementary, but let me explain. My six-year-old Terrier Mix, Sally, is bright-eyed, active, and happy to see everyone – the picture of health. Or so I thought.
Sally had her first dental examination under anesthesia with full mouth x-rays in 2015, at four years old. Her teeth were clean and white because I brush them. She had to have a tooth or two extracted, but only because her teeth were too crowded in her little mouth.
2016 got away from me, and we skipped Sally’s dental exam. “She’s still a young dog, and she acts fine,” I thought. “Besides, I brush her teeth, so I would know if something was seriously wrong anyway.”
Fast forward to 2017. Sally had her dental examination in mid-July. Imagine my surprise when her dental x-rays revealed dramatic bone loss around four teeth! Two of those teeth were even loose enough in her jaw that they were moving a little. And do you think that was painful for Sally? Of course it was.
Below is a comparison of Sally’s 2015 dental x-rays and her 2017 dental x-rays.
Sally had severe periodontal disease of several teeth, which is caused by bacteria in dental plaque. Plaque is the sticky substance that forms on teeth soon after brushing. In an effort to get rid of the bacteria, the cells of the immune system release substances that inflame and damage the gums, periodontal ligament, or alveolar bone, causing attachment loss around the tooth. A dog’s genetic makeup also helps determine whether or not dental plaque will become a problem, and the disease is more prevalent in small dogs like Sally. Even with daily tooth-brushing, some dogs will develop periodontal disease.
Anyway, my point is that Sally receives great oral care. But after only one missed year, she had four teeth that required extraction. While it’s possible that those teeth couldn’t have been saved regardless, it is likely that I could have prevented what may have been months and months of pain for Sally. And I know you understand when I say that, as a pet owner, that’s what makes me cringe.
I am happy to be a cautionary tale in order that others can learn the following:
- Your pet may not show you that she is in pain. Mine didn’t.
- Pets will usually keep eating regardless of whether they are in pain. Mine did. She might drool, drop food out of her mouth, chew on just one side, or have bad breath, but Sally showed none of these signs.
- A dental cleaning without full mouth x-rays will not tell your vet what’s going on with the root of the tooth and the surrounding bone. Dental x-rays are essential to your pet’s oral health, just as they are to yours.
- It is so much better to extract diseased teeth and return the mouth to a healthy state than to leave those teeth in the mouth. Sally lost four teeth, but I notice her eating more readily and accepting tooth brushing better than before because her painful teeth are gone.
If it’s been a while since your pet had an anesthetized oral exam, talk to your family vet. A dental exam and x-rays should be done annually, and it’s something simple that you can do to make sure that your pet isn’t in needless pain!
If your pet needs more complicated oral care like root canal therapy, removal of oral tumors, malocclusion or orthodontic treatment, or advanced imaging like CT, feel free to contact our Dentistry & Oral Surgery Department at (651) 501-3766.