Hidden Tooth Abscess: Meet Spud, the Boston Terrier
Most of us feel that pet dental care, just like with people, is primarily a cosmetic issue: removing tartar buildup from the teeth and minimizing offensive breath. If any more severe problems occur, we would expect them to be obvious, causing our pets to either not eat, act lethargic, or have otherwise changed behavior. As long as the teeth look clean and our pets are eating and acting normal, there shouldn’t be any reason for concern.
The reality is that this could not be further from the truth. Many pets have predisposing factors such as crowding and abnormal rotation of the teeth, and some just damage their teeth at one point without showing signs. They also do not show pain, as they do not have a concept of pain being abnormal or that someone would do something about it if they only stopped eating.
A good example of this is Spud, the Boston Terrier owned by doctors Greg and Simone here at Riverstone Animal Hospital. Spud has had regular dental evaluations and x-rays due to the fact that being a flat-faced breed, he has congenital crowding of his teeth and abnormal rotation of most teeth. He also had impacted lower fang teeth as a puppy and had to have extended oral surgery to remove them from inside his jaw.
Spud was due for his yearly oral evaluation and x-rays, and the doctors almost did not proceed with this as he had very clean teeth and no outward symptoms of any issues. He had a mild odor to his breath but nothing severe or offensive. Below a picture of his teeth prior to his evaluation and x-rays. They look healthy and clean, right? Notice in the close-up picture #2 the crowding and sideways rotation of the smaller upper teeth (arrow), which is a common area of infection and bone loss in the flat-faced breeds.
Everything in Spud’s mouth looked great until we evaluated the right upper molars. On probing the area around the first molar (the second last tooth), our probe all of a sudden sank almost ¾ inch deep into a pocket on the inside of the tooth, and a fair amount of pus and a strong odor emerged from this pocket. After taking x-rays of the area, the problem was revealed: an abscess around one of the three roots of this tooth!
Spud recovered very well from his oral surgery. He is not allowed to chew his toys for a few weeks but otherwise is happy and likely much more comfortable. In addition, the odor to his breath has completely resolved.
This is a great example of the importance of regular evaluation and assessment of our pets’ teeth and underlying tissues, especially with x-rays. 70% of our pets’ teeth and associated structures are completely below the gum line and not visible just by looking at the mouth. Evaluating for problems early can often save your pet from having extensive treatment and extractions later in life!