Dental Radiology

Many diseases other than periodontal disease can affect the oral cavity, and a board certified dentist is trained to identify and treat these. A good number of these diseases lead to oral inflammation, but there are also oral tumors, auto-immune diseases, and many others that can have effects that are seen in the mouth. In addition to the teeth, there are muscles, nerves, soft tissues, and glands that are present in and around the oral cavity, and they can all be affected by disease. Many systemic diseases and their treatments can also manifest in the mouth. Diabetes, renal failure, and endocrine diseases can all have adverse effects. Some cardiac medications can lead to overgrowth of the gum tissue.

Periodontal Disease

The most common disease in veterinary medicine!  Greater than 70% of all animals 3 years of age and older have dental disease that should be professionally treated.  Essentially, it is a bacterial infection that starts with plaque accumulation, and as it progresses under the gumline the body’s response to the infection leads to destruction of normal tissues surrounding the teeth.  It’s a chronic stress on the immune system, probably similar to the feeling you get when are starting to “come down with something”.  The inflammation that accompanies periodontal disease is uncomfortable at any stage, but progresses to a more overtly painful state as it becomes more severe.  In the most severe cases, the lower jaw can actually fracture from the loss of bone secondary to periodontal disease!  Treatment should take place as soon as deposits start to form on the teeth, followed by home care to keep the teeth clean.  Unfortunately, most(if not all) pets do not exhibit outward signs of the discomfort in their mouths.  The good news is that after appropriate periodontal treatment, most(if not all) pets are demonstrably happier and more playful!  

Endodontic Disease

This is disease inside the tooth, where the pulp lives.  Most commonly, it is seen in the form of fractured teeth, which occur secondary to chewing on hard toys such as antlers, bully sticks, nylabones, and hooves.  Once the pulp is exposed, so is the nerve, so it is painful, despite how your pet may be acting!  Root canal therapy or extraction are the only options for treatment in order to avoid abscess, facial swellings, organ damage, and more pain.  Even if the tooth is not overtly fractured, disease within the pulp can occur, such as we see commonly in dogs who play aggressive tug of war games.  If the tooth is discolored in any way(pink, purple, grey, black), it indicates a pulpitis and death of the tooth.  Again, root canal therapy or extraction is indicated.

Missing Teeth

Dogs and cats are expected to have a certain number of teeth!  If one or more are missing, it should be investigated with dental x-rays.  Often, teeth are impacted or embedded, which can lead to cyst formation and bone loss within the jaws.  It can progress to facial swellings, discomfort, and even sinus problems.  Early diagnosis and intervention is warranted to prevent bigger problems down the road.  

Oral Masses

Growths inside the mouth are common, and while many are benign, there are some that can be cancerous.  Any deviation from a normal gingival contour requires early intervention.  Even benign masses can cause problems, such as swellings, loss of tooth vitality, periodontal disease, halitosis, and pain.  Oral surgery to remove oral masses can be curative, and is a much more comfortable process for your pet when the mass is small.  A wait and see approach is not recommended.  

Nasal Discharge

Believe it or not, nasal problems such as discharge and sneezing can be secondary to dental disease, especially in the Dachshund breed.   The proximity to the nasal cavity of the tooth roots in the upper jaw means that periodontal or endodontic disease of these teeth can lead to symptoms of upper respiratory disease.  This may not be immediately apparent during an oral examination, so an anesthetized examination with dental x-rays is needed to make the diagnosis and treat the disease.