THE BLOG
10/21/2013 09:05 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Invisible Dental Disease in Pets

Sometimes photographs tell a better story than words. Sometimes, together they tell the best story.

One month ago, I examined an adorable six-year-old miniature long-haired dachshund named Daphne. She was happy and showing no signs of ill health. Here is a photograph of Daphne on the day of her examination.

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My physical examination revealed Daphne was in excellent health with mild to moderate dental tarter and I recommended to the owner to schedule a dental cleaning and oral evaluation under general anesthesia. During this visit, we drew her blood and ran pre-surgical blood work. Her blood chemistry results were all within the normal range.

This is a photograph of Daphne's oral cavity before her teeth were cleaned. There is plaque and calculus on her teeth.

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After we sedated Daphne, my certified veterinary technician Michelle cleaned her teeth with an ultrasonic scaler, then polished them.

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Every patient should be sedated for a dental cleaning. Physically restraining a pet for a dental cleaning is cruel, stressful and painful to the pet. A sudden movement by the pet during an anesthesia-free dental procedure could result in damage to gum tissue or enamel on your pet's teeth. A frightened pet may try to bite the cleaner.

Following the cleaning, I probed each tooth and discovered a problem.

Can you tell me which tooth is problematic and needs to be surgically extracted?

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From this photograph, you CANNOT tell which tooth is problematic! From a visual inspection only, you would say Daphne's teeth look pearly white and beautiful. It is for this reason alone -- the inability to truly assess the health of the entire mouth -- that it is essential that every pet be sedated for a complete oral assessment. Just looking at Daphne's teeth does not tell you the whole medical story.

On the inner surface of Daphne's left upper third premolar tooth, I discovered a very large pocket beneath the gum line with the aid of my dental probe. The radiograph below reveals severe bone loss (the black space) around each root which is consistent with a tooth root abscess. If this abscessed tooth was not discovered today, shortly Daphne would have presented to my office in throbbing pain with facial swelling on her left side of her face.

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After surgically extracting her third premolar, I cleaned and flushed the extraction site and then, sutured the gingival tissue closed with suture material.

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On discharge, I sent Daphne home with pain medication, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication for a pain-free and successful surgical recovery.

In two weeks, I will reevaluate Daphne's oral cavity and I am confidant that her oral incision will be perfectly healed.

For your pet's good health, I recommend a professional veterinary dental examination every year. Dental disease can be painful and can lead to more serious health problems, like kidney, heart and liver disease. Be proactive with your pet's dental health. Schedule your pet's dental examination now!