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Articles by Dr. Tesluk


Dr. Stephen Tesluk, DVM


Frank and Lee O’Reely had reached the end of their rope.  They had known for several years that their 8-year-old Yorkshire Terrier Sweetie had severe periodontal disease that was progressively getting worse.

            “At first the smell from her mouth was tolerable, but now I can’t even let her give me a kiss without wanting to vomit,” Lee said.

            “We even have to lock her in the back of the house when we have company over,” Frank added.

            “Well, I can see in Sweetie’s chart that we have discussed having her teeth cleaned several times in the past, and you have always declined, can your tell me why?” I asked.

            Lee’s eyes started to tear up and she said, “we love her so much, and we are just terrified that will die under anesthesia.”

            “Let’s take a look at her mouth and then we can talk about the anesthesia issue,” I suggested.

            Frank and Lee were right about the odor, which was overpowering to put it mildly.  For a 4-pound dog, she had teeth the size of a Labrador and they were caked with a greenish-yellow plaque; her gums were bright red and looked raw.  The gums were so eroded that many teeth were barely held in their sockets.

            “There is no doubt that Sweetie needs to have her teeth cleaned and several teeth will have to be extracted,” I said. “It is also true that the condition of her oral cavity is putting her at risk for other diseases.  Bacteria can get into her bloodstream from her infected mouth and cause problems in her internal organs, including her kidneys, bladder, liver and heart.  Beyond all that, poor Sweetie can’t even be part of your life anymore because of that horrible smell.

            “Now, I can’t tell you that anesthesia is risk-free, but modern techniques are much safer then they were even 10 years ago, we monitor our patients carefully during anesthesia and recovery, and we can reduce the risks even further by doing pre-operative blood work and supporting Sweetie’s blood pressure with intravenous fluids during and after the procedure.”    

            Frank and Lee reluctantly agreed, and after a thorough pro-operative workup Sweetie got her dental.  We extracted seven teeth, and Sweetie recovered quickly from the anesthesia.

            When the O’Reelys picked up their dog, they couldn’t believe that the odor was gone.  They were delighted to accept the multiple kisses that Sweetie offered.  We sent home Sweetie with a course of antibiotics, instructions for the O’Reelys to feed wet food for 10 days, and a few days worth of pain medication.

            When I called to see how Sweetie was doing a few days later, Lee was ecstatic.

            “She’s almost like a puppy again, full of energy, eating better than evern and no bad breath,” she said. “ I just wish we would have had the procedure done earlie.”

            The month of February has been designated the National Pet Dental Health Month.  In recent years, veterinarians have learned that keeping the oral cavity healthy is very important to a pet’s overall health, particularly as they get older.

            Veterinarians use ultrasonic scaling, polishing and fluoride to clean debris from about and below the gum line, and can x-ray teeth to look for disease in at the level of tooth roots.  Extractions are commonly done when indicated, and specialists can do root canals, caps and other endodontic procedures.

            Anesthesia is required for these procedures (animals simply won’t hold their mouths open no matter how nicely you ask them), but in most cases, dental procedures can be done safely even in very old pets.

            The signs of dental disease can range from obvious, as in Sweeties case, to more subtle signs like reduced appetite, reluctance to chew, chewing on one side of the mouth, drooling, lethargy, or pain in or around the mouth.

            Your veterinarian should make a point of examing the oral cavity during the annual exam and make recommendations based on their findings.  Finally, there are many new products out on the market that make it easier to take care of your pet’s teeth between cleanings.

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