Far too often, pet owners scoff at the idea that their pet’s teeth are are an important area of health, quality of life, and longevity. I examine the teeth and regularly report the different stages of periodontal disease in the exam room and recommend a professional dental cleaning (and possibly oral surgery for advanced stages of dental disease). At worst, owners sometimes roll their eyes or smirk at me as they dismiss the ridiculous notion that a pet should require dental care. Other times, they politely nod, take their treatment plan, but never schedule the procedure; only to return next year for the well visit with the pet suffering with even more gnarly teeth and gums. At best, a frustratingly small percentage of clients will actually schedule a dental procedure.
Case in point, in my 3 doctor practice, we recommend between 20-25 dental procedures per day during routine well visits, yet may perform 12 or fewer dentals per week. What’s more, of the dentals we actually perform, at least half are not routine with the owner’s hand finally having been forced to have the teeth addressed because of abscess, holes from teeth the rotted up into the nasal sinus, or the pet being so painful that he/she will simply not eat.
Leading up to the train wreck mouth that ultimately forces the owner to have the dental done, as we discuss how painful chronic dental disease is below the gum line, we commonly hear, “But he doesn’t really seem like he is in pain.” Trust me, he is in pain! Animals by their nature fight showing pain or weakness and internalize the pain, adapt and live with it and suffer silently.
Please see the x-ray below of a resorbing incisor in in a person:
In 2016, I had a very similar lesion that gave me such pain that I felt like someone was sticking a knife through the roof of my mouth into my left eye. I had previously never thought that there would be a time in my life that I would be begging for a root canal but there I was begging the receptionist at the endodontal specialist’s office to get me in ASAP.
This past week, I performed a dental on a chihuahua for whom I had been recommending a dental cleaning for years, including during her well visit just 2 weeks prior. Like previous years, the owner was likely content to once again ignore my recommendation but this time chose to comply as a large swelling developed under the left eye that was clearly a tooth root abscess. That poor dog ended up having not just the tooth root abscess but 14 additional teeth with resorbing roots. Having had personal experience with just one single resorbing root, I cannot even fathom the pain this little dog had to live with for years.
The owner also got blindsided by a big bill with 15 dental extractions. Oral surgery is expensive, as are antibiotics and pain medication necessary to treat the patient after surgery. She could have invested a fraction of that amount every couple of years to maintain healthy teeth, not to mention spare her little dog years of suffering in pain and possible long term health consequences that have yet to manifest.
Beyond pain, chronic, unaddressed periodontal disease predisposes to disease via immune suppression, toxicity of the kidneys leading to early onset degenerative kidney disease, heart valve infections, and in severe cases, pathological fractures of the jaw.
February is American Animal Dental Health Month for which I post my obligatory dental article each year hoping that awareness will spread and the importance of dental health in dogs and cats will sink in.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.