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Friday, January 23, 2015

More Tartar Than Teeth

Pretty much every day we do dental cleanings on dogs and cats.  Sometimes it's very mild with hardly any appreciable tartar or calculus.  Other times we end up with severe periodontal disease numerous loose teeth, sometimes resulting in half or more of the teeth falling out or having to be pulled.  Many of these cases are pretty disgusting, but we're used to them.  But some of them impress even us rather jaded veterinarians.

One such case came in recently.  The dog was a pug that we've been seeing for many years, and was literally a few days away from his 17th birthday.  No, that's not a typo!  A pug that had actually lived 17 years, and though he had some age-related health problems was still going fairly strong!  It's rare to see any dog make it to 17, especially pugs.

It was no surprise that this guy had pretty bad teeth.  Due to his age the owner hadn't scheduled a dental cleaning in many years, resulting in some pretty severe dental disease.  He was missing numerous teeth due to being pulled or having fallen out due to gum and tooth infection.  The remaining teeth were obscured by the very impressive amounts of dental calculus present.  Here are some photos, though they don't really do justice to the extend of the problem.

On several teeth I literally could not see the tooth under the layer of calculus and tartar.  A few teeth had at least 1/4" (about 0.6cm) of thick calculus covering them!  I would not be surprised if a few of the teeth remained in place only because the tartar and calculus acted as a sort of cement, holding them together when they otherwise would have fallen out.

I felt really bad for the little guy, as I'm sure his mouth was very uncomfortable.  Part of me can't completely blame the owner for not risking anesthesia, even though I'm a big believer in "age is not a disease" and have done cleanings safely on dogs and cats older than him.  And there isn't a darn thing that will fix that much dental disease other than a thorough cleaning and likely extractions.

I think that the big lesson here is the need for preventative dental care.  We need to be doing at least annual cleanings on dogs starting at a young age to keep this severe of a problem from happening.  It is also important to do regular at-home dental care with appropriate brushing and/or chew treats.

As disgusting as mouths like this are, I'm certainly glad that I'm not a human dentist, having to see such problems in people!