Doggie Dentistry

Google Maps location for Riverport Veterinary Hospital

Riverport Veterinary Hospital
1 Avoca Street
SA 5214

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08 8555 5690

Victor Central Veterinary Clinic
35 Crozier Road
Victor Harbor
SA 5211

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08 7522 4300

It may come as a surprise but over the past few years I have developed a real passion for veterinary dentistry.  Teeth are just SO important to your pets and I had a classic dental case today that even inspired me to write a blog about it!

A 3 year old spoodle came in this morning for some routine dental work as some tartar had built up on her teeth.  While she was under anaesthetic and Dani (our super dental nurse) was performing the cleaning procedure, I examined all the teeth (as we always do).  Lo and behold there appeared to be a missing tooth:


If you look closely at this picture and then compare it with the pic of the other side:


you will see that the tooth we call 405, a small premolar that is supposed to sit behind the large canine, is not present.  Is this a big deal?  Well…… possibly, possibly not but I’ll get to that.  I went ahead and x-rayed that part of the jaw to see if the tooth was really missing or simply “hiding”.  Check out the x-ray:


So there it is, this weeny premolar had never actually erupted through the gum and was sitting in a “lazy” position, horizontal along the jaw below the gum line.  “What’s the big deal?” I hear you say.  Well I went ahead and surgically removed this tooth because it is a well-known fact that retained premolars can form what is called a “dentigerous cyst”.  Without getting too technical this is a cyst that forms around the unerupted tooth and often by the time treatment is sought major surgery is required to fix the problem (this sometimes requires removal of part of the jaw!).  This is what such a cyst might look like:

And the x-ray that may follow showing a huge cyst eating away at the jaw bone:

Does it make me feel good that I may have saved this patient some major pain down the track? Sure, that’s one of the reasons I love dentistry.

Let me take you back a while… 2001 I graduated from vet school in Melbourne and went to work in a mixed (predominantly dairy cattle) practice in Victoria.  My first ever clinical case was actually an old cat that needed dental treatment…….but that’s a story for another day.  In that practice (and most others around the country at that stage) our cat and dog dentistry consisted of the following:

  • Recommend that patients chews bones and sometimes dental specific prescription food
  • When they have bad breath, sore gums and tartar caked on their teeth book them in to have the tartar cracked off and the teeth scaled and polished.  If a tooth is starting to get wobbly, remove it, otherwise wake the patient up and send them home
  • Repeat the previous steps as often as you feel appropriate…….

This used to be standard practice and the results were ok (depending on how high your standards are) but far too many dogs and cats actually endured significant periods of time where they had painful teeth and gums.

Needless to say, dentistry was never a passion of mine following these sorts of “guidelines”.

Since then I have undertaken 2 major steps:

  1. Along with my colleagues I have participated in some more advanced dentistry training.
  2. Purchased a new fangled digital dental x-ray machine.

The training speaks for itself but I must admit I was a little sceptical reading again and again in vet dentistry forums that dentistry should never be performed without the ability to take x-rays.  A couple of weeks after the purchase, however, I was convinced.

We now x-ray the teeth of all but the most routine dental cases and it’s amazing how this has altered our approach to dentistry!  Only around 1/3 of each tooth can be seen without an x-ray so it’s no surprise that in the past many diseases of the teeth have been completely missed.  I could go on for hours but the end result is that our dental patients these days have a much more thorough treatment and importantly a much less painful mouth.  Current treatment is infinitely more scientific and less “random” than in the past and that is another reason why I love it….I now know I am doing the right thing rather than just think it.

Another significant evolution that has happened in the world of veterinary dentistry is the adoption of the long known concept that prevention is better than cure.  It sounds simple but until we knew how painful the teeth in relatively innocent looking mouths were, we were a little complacent with intervening in the early stages of dental disease.  Looking back it’s ludicrous…we used to say things like “there’s some tartar on your dog’s teeth but it’s not bad enough to warrant a clean just yet….let’s think about it down the track”.  How would you feel if your dentist said “Yes you have bad breath and some sore gums due to the bacteria riddled tartar on your teeth but let’s leave it a while before we deal with it”.  OK a little melodramatic but you get the idea.

So times have changed.  Anything less than daily brushing is doing your furry friend an injustice.  If you can brush your dog or cat’s teeth daily, they will almost certainly need only a minor dental procedure each year (a “scale and polish” – the same as we get done on an annual basis).  And yes, it is possible to brush a cat’s teeth.  Just do a youtube search but remember I said possible……not easy.

I’ve waffled on for long enough this time.  If you want any tips on dental disease and taking care of your pet’s teeth have a look at our previous blog teeth, teeth, teeth.

Until next time………


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