Seemingly innocuous problems in your pet’s mouth may be an indication of a much more serious condition that warrants early intervention to avoid unnecessary pain and prevent further damage to surrounding structures in the mouth.
Cracked, missing, or discolored teeth; bleeding gums, or bad breath might not seem like they are causing problems, but they are symptoms of potentially serious dental disease.
Any damage to the hard outer covering of the tooth, called enamel, exposes underlying structures, which can be an avenue for bacteria to enter the tooth, ultimately leading to an abscess and death of the tooth.
If the pulp cavity in the center of the tooth is open, it requires immediate intervention or the tooth will be lost. The mouth is a constant source of bacterial contamination, and without the protective outer surfaces, the tooth is continually infected. Relatively quickly, the vital pulp in the center will die. This infection has nowhere to go and will spill out the root of the tooth, which is when an abscess develops, creating a source of pain and potentially allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
Discolored or missing teeth may not be an emergency, but they certainly can be a source of trouble down the road. A discolored tooth is one that has suffered some form of trauma, and if it is still red, that is the dental equivalent of a bruise from blood leeching from the interior pulp into the surrounding dentin. Over time, the increased pressure inside the pulp cavity from the bleeding will kill off vital structures, causing the tooth to die and eventually abscess.
A missing tooth may have never developed or may be underneath the gums and never erupt. It might never cause trouble, but similar to a dead tooth, it can be a source of infection.
Bleeding gums and bad breath are not normal in pets. Foul odor from the mouth is generally a sign of infection or periodontal disease. Bleeding gums are indicative of underlying disease and even cancer. If caught early, gum disease can be treated, avoiding damage to the underlying structures of the tooth. Once the underlying bone is lost beyond a certain point, tooth loss is inevitable.
All of these problems can be diagnosed and treated with early intervention. Your veterinarian will need to take dental x-rays to evaluate the extent of the damage. Broken or dead teeth that serve a major structural role in the mouth can be saved with a root canal, and less important teeth generally will need to be extracted.
These may seem like extreme measures, but ask anyone who has dealt with an abscessed tooth how painful it can be. The other risk is that the infection can spread to the underlying bone or enter the bloodstream and cause problems in distant sites throughout the body. So if you notice a problem in your pet’s mouth, have your veterinarian evaluate it as soon as possible.
Questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 N. Superior St. Toledo, OH., 43660.
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