Canine Oral Health: 4 common conditions affecting the mouth of canines
Welcome back! In my initial post on dental disease, I talked about exactly what periodontal disease is, how to prevent it, and how it is treated. Now I am diving into more specific conditions related to oral health in our canine companions. While there are many diseases affecting the mouth of dogs, below are 4 of the most common.
1. Retained deciduous teeth
Puppies typically lose their deciduous or ‘baby’ teeth as early as 3 months of age and they should have a complete set of permanent (adult) teeth by 7 months of age. However, there are times when a baby tooth remains despite the adult tooth being present (most commonly seen in small and toy breeds). This situation can cause problems with the health of the adult tooth, crowding in the mouth (which allows for more plaque to accumulate and thus, periodontal disease), malocclusions (discussed below), and potential pain for your pup. It is important to keep an eye on your puppy’s mouth in the early months, and with frequent trips to the clinic for puppy vaccines, your veterinarian will be on the lookout as well. If you notice a baby tooth at the same time an adult tooth looks like it is beginning to come through – please make an appointment with your veterinarian! Retained baby teeth should be removed as soon as possible to prevent a lifetime of dental pain and/or expensive dental procedures.
A malocclusion is a fancy word meaning an abnormal bite. Either the jaw itself is in an abnormal position or the jaw is normal, but the teeth are placed improperly. Malocclusions are caused by genetics (think: Bulldogs) or by retained deciduous teeth causing improper tooth placement. Having an abnormal bite can be really painful! Imagine if your teeth hit the roof of your mouth every time you chewed your food – ouch! If the malocclusion is a tooth hitting the soft tissue of the mouth, it can create a fistula (draining tract), abscess, and extreme pain. If the malocclusion is causing teeth to rub together when an animal bites down, this will cause unnecessary wear and potentially fractures of the tooth. Often, animals with ‘behavioral problems’ are suffering with undiagnosed oral pain. Preventing malocclusions of permanent teeth is ideal so as puppies visit their veterinarian frequently, it is important the bite and health of the teeth are examined at each visit in order to allow for early intervention!
3. Fractured teeth and jaws
Fractured teeth are common – especially in large breed dogs. They love to chew sticks, bones, you name it! Many veterinarians will recommend removal of the fractured tooth, but there are times when the tooth can be saved with more advanced dentistry procedures. Fractured jaws happen from trauma, cancer, or from severe periodontal disease. Amazingly, fractured jaws are not always obvious - especially in smaller dogs. If your veterinarian finds a fractured jaw in your pet, consider taking your baby to a board certified veterinary dentist. Did you know there was such a thing? That’s right! Veterinarians who complete a residency and pass their specific board exam become certified in veterinary dentistry. If your dog ever suffers from dental disease, please do not hesitate to ask your veterinarian about all the options – not just removal of the tooth!
4. Oral tumors
Unfortunately oral tumors are relatively common in our pets. The masses can be benign or malignant and as with most diseases, early intervention is extremely important. Many times the actual mass or lesion isn’t diagnosed until the animal is under anesthesia and the whole mouth can be thoroughly examined. The first oral tumor I ever saw (before I became a veterinarian) was diagnosed when the animal was put under anesthesia for a completely unrelated procedure. As the tube was being placed in his airway, I noticed a fairly good sized tumor on the back of his tongue. Again, know that there are veterinary dentists who can help if the mass is able to be removed.
Please make sure your dog receives regular check-ups with your family veterinarian to ensure any oral (and other) disease will be caught early. One of the first body parts I examine is the mouth – every patient, every time! If you are in the habit of brushing your dog’s teeth every day, you will be able to spot an abnormality quickly – thus creating the best opportunity for treatment and cure!
– Leigh Hofmeister, DVM