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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Learn From Yoda, You Will

How many times do I get to channel my geek side while being a vet? Several years ago I had a client with a dog named Yoda. Yoda was a geriatric long-haired chihuahua, about 14 years old. Despite her age, she was a spunky and sweet little girl. Unfortunately, she was plagued by severe periodontal disease. True periodontal disease occurs when infection from dental tartar becomes so severe that the bone of the jaw (upper or lower) starts to erode away, making the teeth loose. Small breed dogs are especially prone to this, with chihuahuas being one of the worst.

The first time we did a dental cleaning on Yoda, we had to remove a little over half of her teeth due to severe infection of the bone and teeth literally falling out at a touch. The next year, more teeth came out. The year after that, we removed more. Adult dogs should have 42 teeth. By the time we got finished with little Yoda on that last dental, she only had 4 teeth left, none of them close to any of the others.

There are a few lessons we can take away from Yoda. First, many people wait too late to begin taking care of their pet's teeth. Clients frequently wait until the periodontal disease is very advanced before doing anything about it. If Yoda's owner had started dental cleanings and proper at-home care earlier, she likely would have ended up with more than 4 teeth. Second, periodontal disease is a severe problem. Yoda was lucky that it didn't lead to other things. Infection from the mouth can get into the blood stream and lead to kidney or liver infections and heart murmurs. Yoda loosing her teeth was the least concerning problem.

The third lesson is that treatment should be taken seriously and not discounted because of what is needed. Yoda was very old, but handled multiple anesthesias and extractions without any issues. Age is NOT a disease, and I've done anesthesia and dental cleanings on dogs and cats much older than her. Even though she lost almost all of her teeth, we kept any infection minimal or eliminated it. She was also still able to eat dry food, and was a very happy little girl. By doing cleanings and pulling her teeth, we likely helped extend her life, and give her a better quality.

So keep this story in mind when you think about your dog's or cat's teeth. And when your vet tells you that you need to take care of your pet's teeth, and you say "I'll try," remember the other Yoda's famous words...

Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.