Dog Teeth Problems
Well-cared-for dog teeth are essential to the health of the pet. The teeth of young, vigorous animals usually demand little or no attention, but dental ailments become of increasing frequency and importance as the animal gets older. Most dental derangements are readily remedied, but if they are neglected serious secondary disturbances may ensue. It is therefore a good, hygienic measure to have the dog’s teeth checked about twice a year by a veterinarian, especially after the animal attains its fifth year. As far as daily care by the owner is concerned, it is best that no effort be made to clean the dog teeth by brushing. This is something that is quite unnecessary in the dog, and it is very unlikely to do any good. If there is any question about the condition of the dog’s teeth, simply ask your veterinarian.
As the animal gets older, tartar usually appears on the dog teeth. This tartar consists of deposits of minerals extracted from the diet. The tartar pushes against the gums, causing irritation, infection, sloughing, and recession. If the process continues, the gums recede so far that the dog teeth become loose in their sockets.
As the tartar accumulates and the gum irritation becomes more severe, a repulsive odor of decaying tissue comes from the animal’s mouth. If the animal is further neglected, it is observed to eat cautiously because of the pain caused by the pressure of the food against the loose teeth and the irritated gums. The absorption of poisonous substances that result from the decaying tissue may cause toxic reactions in the dog, with symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, and general depression.
Animal dentistry consists essentially of dog teeth cleaning, extracting them, and treating the gums. These dental procedures are classified as minor operations and animals tolerate them very well. Often as many as fifteen to twenty teeth may be removed at a single sitting without apparent discomfort to the animal. This is due to the fact that infected dog teeth are usually so loose in their sockets that only the slightest pressure has to be exerted to remove them. The operations are performed under mild sedation or general anaesthesia.
The teeth of dogs are not subject to dental caries, that is, to cavities, so that the veterinarian is not called upon to fill teeth. There are, however, numerous cases on record of false teeth having been prepared for dogs. This is not a routine practice because it is economically unfeasible and because false teeth in dogs are not physiologically necessary. The function of the dog teeth is mainly to tear food, not to chew it. The digestive system of these animals is such as to render chewing unnecessary to all practical purposes. Therefore, if a dog has no teeth at all, the owner merely has to cut up the food into small pieces, and this accomplishes the main task of the dog teeth. If this is done, the toothless dog will thrive quite well. Thus the dental plate is an unessential ostentation.
In regard to routine animal dentistry, the favorable result of a thorough dental treatment is immediate and sensational in most cases. The odor quickly disappears from the dog’s mouth, the toxic substances are readily eliminated, and the reinvigorated animal gallivants in a manner reminiscent of its puppyhood days.
The dental fistula is a dental ailment so distinctive as to deserve special mention. It concerns an infection of the so-called carnassial teeth—the very large teeth of the upper jaw that can be seen by pulling back the corner of the lip on each side of the dog’s mouth.
One carnassial tooth grows on either side of the upper jaw. The roots are so deep that, when they are infected, the infection extends into the sinuses of the skull and forms an abscess, which sooner or later breaks out in an area directly underneath and about an inch away from the eye. Such a formation is called a fistula, for a fistula simply means a pathway within the body tissue along which pus travels. The area around which the abscess breaks may be only slightly swollen or it may be so enlarged that the face has a distorted aspect. Most often the swelling is only slight. A discharge that may be bloody or pussy flows from the opening of the abscess. This may become dried and scabby. If routine antiseptics are applied to the affected area, the wound may heal. But this healing is only temporary, for in time the sore opens up again and gives rise to more discharge. This condition may occur on one or both sides of the face, depending on whether one or both carnassial teeth are infected. The whole picture of this condition is so characteristic that once it is seen it is rarely forgotten.
Treatment is very simple and consists of the removal of the affected dog teeth. These teeth are so large that, if they are firmly embedded as is often the case, they first have to be split into two parts in order to be removed. When they are split, each part is removed separately, a not too complicated procedure. Once it is done, and the fistula is cleaned, healing usually takes place in a couple of days without any further treatment.