February is National Pet Dental Month. During this month there is an increased effort to educate pet owners on the importance of oral health in pets. The AVMA notes that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of dental disease by the age of 3, a condition which worsens without intervention. Untreated dental disease can result in pain, infection, bone loss, oral bleeding, reduced appetite and can have a negative impact on internal organs such as the heart.
Attention to the oral health of pets also allows us to screen them for oral tumors. During a yearly oral exam your veterinarian will assess all of your pet’s teeth as well as the gums and oral tissue. During this exam oral tumors are sometime identified, in some cases allowing us to discover them quicker than we would without routine oral care. Early detection of oral tumors is important as it may give us a better opportunity for treatment.
When pets do not have routine dental care oral tumors are most often detected late. The most common signs of oral tumors in pets are: very bad breath, drooling, oral bleeding, reluctance to eat, weight loss and facial swelling. Some tumors can be located at the back of the mouth making them difficult to see at home. A sedated oral exam by your veterinarian is one of the more effective oral exams as allows them to assess the very back of the mouth, the tonsils as well as examine under the tongue, something not always possible during an awake exam.
The most common oral tumors in dogs in cats are: Oral malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and odontogenic tumors. Each tumor has a different treatment and prognosis, however, all benefit from early detection as smaller tumors are easier to remove. When a tumor is noted a biopsy is indicated to properly classify it. This biopsy helps to determine prognosis and the treatment options available for that tumor. Some tumors can be cured with complete surgical excision while others may need additional treatment after surgery. The additional therapy needed after surgery could include radiation therapy, immunotherapy or chemotherapy. If you pet is diagnosed with a malignant oral tumor a consultation with an oncologist is indicated. During our oncology consultation the oncologist will expand on the prognosis and treatment options specific to your pet.
What can you do? If possible have a look and have a sniff. If your pet is calm and well behaved lift up their lips one at a time, having a look at the teeth and gums. This can be very brief, no need to make is stressful. If you see or smell something odd schedule an early appointment with your veterinarian, no need to wait until dental month or your next recheck. Get your pet’s mouth evaluated any time you are concerned.