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NJ Veterinary Medical Association
390 Amwell Road, Suite 402
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Phone:  908-281-0918
Fax:  908-450-1286

Health Concerns: Teeth

Dear Veterinarian:
My dog's teeth look a little crooked. Does he need braces?

Dear Pet Owner:
Veterinary dentists do not routinely use braces to straighten a dog's teeth, especially if it is just a cosmetic problem. Veterinary dentists will put an orthodontic device in a dog's mouth to correct a malocclusion, or abnormal bite, which is causing pain to the dog. An example of this would be base narrow canine teeth. In this case, the dog's lower canine teeth are pointing toward the soft palate in the mouth. If the teeth touch the palate, the dog may experience pain as well as difficulty eating. The veterinary dentist would use an appliance to correct this problem. However, simply removing the tooth creating the pet's pain is also an option. Braces or appliances are used specifically to prevent trauma in an animal's mouth and improve its quality of life.

If a veterinarian corrects an orthodontic condition in a breeding or show dog, the owner will be asked to sign a form that states they will reveal this information to a prospective buyer.


Dear Veterinarian:
My pet fractured her canine tooth. What should I do?

Dear Pet Owner:
A fractured tooth can be treated in a variety of ways. First, the tooth should be evaluated by a veterinarian. This is accomplished by performing a visual exam and possibly taking an x-ray of the tooth. If the pulp or blood vessels in the tooth are exposed, the veterinarian will recommend either a repair or removal of the tooth. The choice will depend on how long the tooth has been fractured as well as the age of the pet. If the fracture is old, the tooth may have started to abscess. In this case, the veterinarian may have to extract the tooth if there is too much damage to its root structure.

The veterinarian will also consider what tooth is affected and the pet's lifestyle before devising a treatment plan. For example, if the animal is a police dog with a fractured canine tooth, it is very likely he could re-fracture the tooth due to his work. In this case, the dentist may instead recommend a root canal as this is a valuable tooth, but he may also suggest a metal crown to give that tooth added strength.


Dear Veterinarian:
My dog has an offensive odor and I can't seem to control it or find out where it is coming from. It seems to come from around the head area and I have been to my veterinarian several times and had the anal glands expressed and ears and teeth cleaned but it hasn't stopped the odor. I can smell it as soon as I come into the room the dog is in and she doesn't understand why I don't want to play with her. Can you give me any advice?

Dear Pet Owner:
There is another area on the face that can cause a foul odor and that is the lip fold of many spaniel breeds (Cocker Spaniel, Brittany Spaniel) and I have seen it in Chows. A congenital trait results in abnormal conformation of the lip fold found on the lower lips just behind the lower canine teeth. Saliva pools in this area causing a moist dermatitis and the resulting fetid odor that accompanies it. Cleansing the area daily after meals helps along with oral antibiotics but when the problem is long-standing, the best solution is surgical resection. This can be done with the newer method of laser surgery (I have had good results with this method-less bleeding-less pain post-surgically) or by traditional means, but removal of the offending tissue is the best permanent solution. Results are immediate and your dog will be a better companion.


Dear Veterinarian:
My friend brushes her dog's teeth once a week and says that this is a routine part of pet care. Am I supposed to be brushing my sheltie's teeth?

Dear Pet Owner:
You and your pet have many things in common – one of which is the need for proper oral hygiene. As a pet owner, you can help prevent periodontal disease in your cat or dog by learning proper brushing and making appointments for your pet to receive routine teeth cleanings.

Just like you, your pet has bacteria in her mouth. Too much bacteria in the mouth can not only result in bad breath but can also lead to gum disease. This bacteria can then travel through the body and lead to serious infections involving your pet's major organs including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver.

Symptoms of gum disease include yellow and brown buildup along the gumline, persistent bad breath, and red, inflamed gums. Prevention is as simple as following a dental care regimen at home and following up with regular checkups with your veterinarian. Getting your dog or cat used to having its teeth cleaned at home should ideally be started when they are young. Be sure to use toothbrushes and toothpastes made especially for pets. Be gentle when brushing, taking care to get the insides and outsides of all teeth. This process should be repeated approximately 2-3 times a week. Some of the signs that your pet may be experiencing mouth or tooth pain may include blood-tinged drooling, difficulty eating/reluctance to eat, swelling/redness of gums, tipping/tilting the head when eating, refusing to eat hard foods, and a change in mouth odor. If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately so your pet doesn't suffer unnecessarily.


Dear Veterinarian:
My cat sometimes drools; she's been doing this for a while. Does this mean that she has Rabies? I had her vaccinated for Rabies, but she does goes outside at times.

Dear Pet Owner:
Drooling in an otherwise healthy cat, i.e. eating, drinking, acting normal otherwise, is unlikely to be a sign of Rabies especially if it's been going on for a while. Of course you shouldn't fool around with this zoonotic disease so have her examined by a veterinarian if there are any doubts.

Is she eating okay? Does she have a foul odor to her mouth (halitosis)? You didn't mention any other signs, so I'll talk about a couple of possibilities. Drooling is usually a sign of discomfort in the mouth or an inability to swallow. Stomatitis (gum infections), dental pain (infected tooth), oral tumors, pharyngeal polyps, or esophageal pain can all cause drooling. When I'm presented with a cat for drooling I have a good look in the mouth for any lesions. If I see stomatitis, which is a generalized gum inflammation, I like to do blood work because it can be a sign of conditions like Feline Leukemia Virus, Feline Immunodeficiency Viruses, or kidney disease. I also look carefully for any infected teeth, polyps, or tumors. An infected tooth can be quite uncomfortable so if I see a loose, infected tooth I'll recommend extracting it. Polyps are benign growths in the pharyngeal area that are treated very successfully with surgery. However, there are sadly some malignant tumors that can cause drooling. If the tumor is malignant and not operable I like to develop a comprehensive pain management plan for my patients. Depending on my suspicions I sometimes have to sedate the cat to look deep in the pharynx for lesions or radiograph the teeth for hidden tooth root abscesses. Lastly, esophageal disease can cause drooling. Generally cats wont eat if they have an esophageal problem, but they can fool you! To look for esophageal disease I like to do a radiographic study and have a look with a small flexible endoscope. This is done with sedation and is painless.

My favorite result with these visits is when I look at the cat and find no problems and then the owner mentions that she only drools when she's being petted and is purring. This is a normal, content kitty with an over-exuberant display of happiness. I hope you get good news when you have her examined by your veterinarian.


Dear Veterinarian:
My veterinarian told me I should remove my dog's baby teeth if they don't fall out. Why is that important?

Dear Pet Owner:
Most breeds should have all of their adult or permanent teeth between the ages of six and eight months. Normally, the deciduous (or baby tooth) root is resorbed, the tooth falls out, and the adult tooth comes through the gum. Occasionally, we see a puppy or kitten or adult mouth with adult teeth alongside some baby teeth. The gold standard in veterinary dentistry is that only one tooth can occupy a tooth socket at one time. Retained deciduous teeth can be found in all breeds, but they are commonly found in smaller breeds such as Maltese, Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, and Yorkshire Terriers.

Even if there appears to be room for both an adult and baby tooth, it is important to extract deciduous teeth. First, the adult tooth is being pushed from its normal position. By sitting so close to the baby tooth, it is creating a small space between the two teeth where food and debris can hide, eventually causing gingivitis.

Another problem is that the two teeth are using one socket. Therefore, neither set of roots can develop normally. Eventually, this results in early loss of the adult tooth. This in turn creates a negative effect in the mouth by allowing other teeth to shift out of their normal positions, causing them to become weakened and potentially lost due to root problems.

Retained teeth also create numerous orthodontic problems, though these can be corrected by using braces. Finally, a retained baby tooth can cause a condition known as dental interlock. This is where deciduous teeth of the upper and lower jaws lock together, preventing normal growth of the jaw.

The rule of thumb is a retained deciduous tooth must be extracted as soon as the adult tooth erupts in the same socket. This is why regular puppy and kitten visits to your veterinary are necessary. He or she will spot any dental abnormality and correct it before a serious problem develops.

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