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The Pet Corner: Abscessed teeth can lead to other problems

Let’s face it. Most pet owners don’t thoroughly examine their pets’ mouths on a regular basis.

Why would they? Granted, many pets have bad breath, but that doesn’t usually prompt their owners to take a closer look. Besides, that is their veterinarian’s job.

The point is that your pet could have bad breath for more than one reason. Certainly, the most common cause of bad breath in your pets is the buildup of tartar.

Tartar is basically caked-on bacteria that is extremely hard and difficult to remove. It is impossible to remove tartar by brushing with a toothbrush.

Periodontal disease is inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth.

Tartar accumulates on the teeth, contributing to gum recession around the base of the tooth. Gum recession leads to unprotected tooth surfaces and then infection. If the infection goes untreated, tooth loss is likely.

The thin, invisible, film buildup of bacteria on teeth is called plaque. If the plaque thickens, it becomes mineralized and hard, which is visible tartar. The tartar irritates the gums, causing inflammation and infection called gingivitis.

Often, a pet with an abscessed tooth will not show any clinical signs other than bad breath. Additionally, it often takes a trained professional to definitively determine that your pet has an abscessed tooth. Sometimes, especially in small dogs, an abscessed tooth is obvious since the gum recession is so severe the tooth appears to be barely attached. This is certainly not seen in most cases.

One common clinical sign occurs when one of a dog’s upper premolars abscesses. The most common tooth to abscess in a dog is the upper fourth premolar.

When this tooth becomes abscessed it will commonly cause a swollen area just below the dog’s eye on the side of their face.

The root of the upper fourth premolar tooth extends upward to the area just below their eye.

When abscessed, the swollen area under the eye begins to drain slowly with pus mixed with blood.

Often, the drainage is so minimal it appears more like a small wound with a scab on it. Sometimes, pet owners mistake the abscessed tooth swelling for a bite wound assumingly from another dog.

Consequently, the oral infection from the abscessed tooth can lead to other infections in the body. Tonsillitis is only one common type of secondary infection due to bad teeth.

The bacteria causing the oral infection can actually get into the bloodstream leading to liver, kidney, and even heart valve infections known as endocarditis.

Antibiotics are necessary to properly treat a dog with an abscessed tooth. However, the infection from the abscessed tooth will not completely resolve until the abscessed tooth is extracted.

Unfortunately, even with the tooth being infected and abscessed, it is one of the most difficult teeth to pull or extract. Usually, the technique for extracting the upper fourth premolar requires sawing the tooth in half prior to pulling it. Obviously, this extraction as well as almost all tooth extractions in pets requires them to be under general anesthesia.

Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats. Over 68 percent of all pets over the age of three have some form of periodontal or dental disease.

It stands to reason that caring for your pet’s teeth before they develop an abscessed tooth is important preventative medicine.

It is imperative to establish a home dental care program for your pet.

There are many different things that pet owners can do to help keep their pet’s teeth healthy. Brushing your dog’s teeth is unquestionably the best preventative. Naturally, not all dogs will allow their owners to do this unless you get them used to it at a very early age.

Feeding dry food and crunchy treats actually helps scrape the plaque off their teeth as they are chewing. Prescription treats are available that have plaque fighting medicine in them, making prevention much easier.

Several special pet mouth rinses can be used to help prevent tartar buildup.

As always, your veterinarian should advise you on the health of your pet’s teeth.

If you have any concerns about your pet’s dental health, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to help ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.

Dr. Jeff Castle is a veterinarian at Clark County Veterinary Clinic.