Better off without teeth? Well, yes, if those teeth are rotten and painful.
Meet Nero the Nearly Toothless. Nero is a Papillon, and, like many small breed dogs, Papillons are predisposed to dental disease.
Some dogs, just like some people, are set up for dental issues. Some people practically live at the dentist’s – they have one problem after another. Other people barely do anything to look after their teeth, and get away with it – when they finally do go for a cleaning, there is just not a lot of tartar there.
Well, small breed dogs are NOT in the “get away with it” category.
The difference has to do with several factors: with the chemistry of the saliva, such as its pH and how many minerals are secreted into it for the bacteria to use building tartar; and, with the immune system, and how good a job it does of keeping the mouth bacteria “in check”.
When conditions are favourable for the bacteria, and the immune system is letting them do their thing, then plaque bacteria proliferate. While the bacteria are in the soft and slimy layer known as plaque, they can be brushed away. But they quickly start taking up minerals, turning into the cement-hard layer know as tartar. Once they have built themselves these bacterial condominiums, they can not be brushed away. While you brush the surface of the tartar, the bacteria inside and underneath the tartar are laughing at you! Once the tartar layer is solid, only a dental instrument can get it away.
From their protected bulwarks, the bacteria continue to grow, proliferating down into the space around the teeth. This causes inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis (and the sewer breath that goes with it).
The insidious part of this process is the destruction that it does. The teeth are attached to the bony sockets in the jaws by tough strands of tissue know as the periodontal ligament. The inflammation in the socket eats away at these attachments. This results in deep recesses forming in the tooth sockets, and ultimately in painful loosening of the teeth.
Nero had already had one dental procedure to remove rotten teeth, about 3 years ago. Now, he was showing pain when he tried to eat – the “big chewer” of his upper right jaw, the carnassial tooth, was oozing pus and loose in its socket.
I put Nero under a general anaesthetic. He had an endotracheal tube down his airway, both to deliver the anaesthetic gas and to keep mouth debris and bacteria from going down where they don’t belong. With Nero stable and not feeling pain, the exploration of his mouth could commence. As the tartar was picked away from his teeth, it was found that the carnassial was not the only loose tooth – many other teeth were only being held in place by the tartar! Once those ramparts were broken down, lots of other teeth were loose in their sockets too. He also had one tooth, the big chewer of his lower left, that, while it was solid in the socket, still needed to be removed. The gums had peeled back away so far down this tooth, that the “crotch” between the roots was exposed. This is almost impossible to keep clean and healthy, unless you have a dog patient enough to let you insert a pipe cleaner into that crotch to brush it – I haven’t met one yet!
When all was done, Nero had just 2 teeth left: the big chewer molar on the lower right, and a tiny little back tooth on the upper right.
So, how did he do after his extensive “tooth-ectomy”? I called his person to follow up the next day, and she said he was eating three times as much as he did before! And that is even before those raw tooth sockets have had a chance to heal – it just goes to show how painful those wiggling teeth were: the raw sockets were much less sore than the wiggling teeth!
The moral of the story: dental health is not something we can ignore. Especially in susceptible breeds (such as small breed dogs and greyhounds), you need to stay on top of things. Dental diets and chews can help – but these help the chewing teeth, the big ones at the rear. They don’t chew with the fangs and the front teeth. Plus, lots of dogs are “one-sided chewers” – in this case, the diet or chew cleans up the chewing side, and does not much for the other side.
Tooth-brushing is key! And it needs to be done daily – the plaque layer is halfway mineralized into tartar at 48 hours of being undisturbed. This means that if you brush teeth, say, once or twice a week, you are giving the plaque a chance to mineralize in between your brushings. You are continuously losing ground! Coming soon: a video blog demonstrating how to brush teeth.
And the bonus to regular dental care? Much fresher breath for doggy kisses!