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The Serious Consequences Of Dental Disease In Pets

Severe dental disease in a dog

Anyone who has needed a root canal can understand the pain of dental disease.  Why else would we voluntarily opt in for a $1500 root canal?  In my own root canal story, my dentist had been monitoring my left upper incisor for changes (the tooth was damaged and slightly discolored when I was an 11 year old boy after I ran into the back of my friend’s head playing hide and go seek in the dark).  30 years later at age 41, my dentist noticed bone resorption on routine dental x-rays, indicating that chronic infection had finally set in around the root of the tooth and was destroying the bone that housed my tooth.  Interpreting dental x-rays regularly in dogs and cats, I recognized the lesion clearly.

My dentist told me that I needed a root canal ASAP and gave me a referral to an endodontist.  We have known one another for years and she was frank with me that I should not procrastinate and have the procedure done, because once the pain of it set in, it would be excruciating and likely on a weekend when nothing was open to address it.  Naturally, I procrastinated and a few months later, exactly what she predicted occurred.  I had to spend the greater part of a weekend writhing in pain feeling like someone was sticking a knife in the roof of my mouth, popping ibuprofen like candy.

The following Monday, I called the endodontist begging for a root canal.  Because of my procrastination, the resorption had progressed and the endodontist recommended a CT scan to make certain that a root canal could be sufficient and that I did not need reconstructive oral surgery.  Thankfully for me, root canal was still appropriate, but I still incurred the addition cost of the CT which was not cheap.

The reason I offer you this story is because I routinely come across dogs and cats with stage 2 or stage 3 dental disease (we rank dental disease in order of severity from 1-4, 4 being the worst) that have multiple resorbing root lesions.  Ouch!  After I point this out, the typical answer I get from the owner is, “but he doesn’t act like he is in pain.”  My answer to that is animals to not wallow in self pity, they hide outward signs of pain, and they suffer silently.  I cannot tell you how many times following a dentistry procedure that owners see their pets acting like they have a new lease on life, suddenly perked up whereas before they just assumed that the lethargy they observed was because of age.

In addition to the pain, inhumanity and stress that a pet with severe dental disease endures, there are many other consequences to dogs and cats living for prolonged periods of dental disease:

  • Dramatically higher rates of oral cancer
  • Kidney and heart infections that can be deadly
  • Dramatically higher rates of kidney failure
  • Immune suppression and predisposition to infectious disease
  • Erosion of bone into the nasal sinus (called oronasal fistula)
  • Pathological fractures of the jaw bone

Despite this, selling the importance of routine dental cleanings to clients is one of the biggest challenges of my job, which is why I am so passionate about writing about it.  While my first concern is the well being of the patient, there is also a cost benefit to the client for having dental cleanings done while it is still at only stage 1-2.  I will not get into exact figures, but having the dental procedure below will cost A LOT less than the featured image above.  The difference is the extensive amount of oral surgery the teeth of featured image will require.

Early stage dental disease in a dog

This one below is even worse.  This dog’s teeth were neglected to the extent that the lower mandible fractured from erosion of bone.  This case required complete removal of the mandible because the bone was too rotten to plate it.  The dog also needed a feeding tube placed for 2 weeks to be fed through while his mouth healed…excruciating, expensive, and so unnecessary.

Pathological fracture from dental disease in a dog

So the next time your veterinarian recommends a dental cleaning for your pet, remember this article and get it done!

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality throughout a number of subjects and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned 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.

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