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Dear Maxine: Terrified in Tennessee

Welcome to another installment of Dear Maxine, where my canine, feline (and occasional human), write in to ask my advice about proper immunizations, nutrition, behaviors, or anything else that questions their minds. (Full disclosure, my human mom helps me with this.) This week’s letter comes from a corgi in Nashville who needs some dental work done and fears the dentist.

Dear Maxine,

My humans recently found that I have a broken took in the back of my mouth. It doesn’t bother me, and it isn’t affecting how I eat, but my vet says it needs to come out. I fear the dentist and am petrified of having a surgical procedure. My human is scared, too. Why is it so important to have my tooth taken out?


Terrified in Tennessee

Dear Terrified,

Lots of animals (and humans!) fear doctors and dentists, but there are so many reasons why you need to have this procedure done! First, let’s talk about dental health in pets, as there are lots of ways to prevent dental issues.

Dental care can affect pet’s overall health in a variety of ways. Pets don't always have the freshest breath, but if the odor makes you recoil, it’s time to seek good dental care. Another issue is tooth loss. If structures supporting our teeth become infected, our teeth can fall out. This can then lead to oral pain; severe dental disease can be very painful for cats and dogs and can lead to organ damage. While visible plaque can be unsightly, plaque and it’s bacteria in the gum line are a real problem. Bacteria in the plaque can enter the bloodstream and spread to the heart, kidneys, and liver, causing organ failure and death.

By the age of three, most of us dogs and cats have some degree of dental disease. The early signs of dental disease in pets include bad breath, yellow tartar buildup on the teeth, and red and swollen gums.

Often dental issues are not discovered until later in life after years of tartar, plaque, and bacteria buildup have caused infection, inflammation, and diseased teeth. Your pet may have already experienced significant, chronic, life-changing pain. But we animals are experts at hiding signs of pain, so the pain may go unnoticed by our humans. Instead, you may see us as increasingly irritable and lethargic or a decreased appetite. Our human’s may mistakenly attribute this to our advancing age or other lifestyle factors. But after a proper and thorough dental procedure, many pet owners report the emergence of “a whole new pet”— one who is happier and more active.

Care and prevention start at home and are an essential part of our oral health. Having our human’s brush our teeth every day will promote good oral health and prevent potentially expensive surgeries down the road. It’s easier than you think: there are even special pet toothpastes flavored like beef, chicken, fish, and peanut butter! Also, the accumulation of plaque and tartar can be prevented by feeding us pets a special dental diet—food that’s specifically designed to help preserve oral health.

Be aware, not all pet dental products are created equal. If your parents can’t brush your teeth as often as they’d like, they should consider using other dental products designed to help maintain our oral hygiene. They should be sure to look for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Products that aren’t approved by the VOHC, or those that are too hard to bend or break easily—like animal antlers and bones, synthetic bones, and others can easily fracture our teeth. NEVER USE HUMAN TOOTHPASTE with us pets, it can make us ill and can even be toxic.

Early detection of dental disease is vital. If left untreated, it can progress to cause chronic pain and inflammation. To detect dental disease before it negatively affects your pet’s quality of life, AAHA recommends dental evaluations as part of your pet’s regular preventive care exam, which should take place at least once a year.

Dental exams for pets are like dental visits for humans — X-rays are usually taken. Veterinarians find most of us have some dental issues that are only visible through X-rays. During dental procedures, placing us under anesthesia allows the veterinarian to make a more accurate diagnosis and decrease the chance of complications as we aren’t moving around. We will rest comfortably while the veterinary team safely performs a thorough and proper dental cleaning. Before anesthesia, we will be carefully screened with blood work and other tests to ensure we are free from underlying disease. During the dental procedure, a trained professional will be dedicated to continuously monitoring, recording vital signs, and communicating the findings to the veterinarian.

Now for your question about the broken tooth that isn’t bothering you, should you have it removed? By now, I’m sure you know the answer is YES. Most canine dentists/vets agree that broken or injured teeth are a dental emergency. Waiting to treat a fracture, even a minor one, can result in more damage to the tooth and infection. You also run the risk of a tooth “dying” and being unusable.

Fractures are often roughly classified as either complicated or uncomplicated. Due to their typical differences in cause, diagnosis and treatment, veterinarian will need to evaluate you to tell you what needs to be done.

Well (hopefully not so terrified in Tennessee), I suggest you go through with the procedure. There are lots of comfort measures your doctor and human will take to keep you safe and comfortable and it will promote your long- term health and happiness. Until next time….

Happy chewing!

Love Maxine (and Brenda Storms)

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