Mouth Problems

The most common mouth problems in dogs are gum inflammation (gingivitis) and periodontal disease, an inflammation of the deeper tooth structures. Other mouth problems include incorrect bites (malocclusions), a hereditary swollen jaw (craniomandibular osteopathy), and inflamed or infected lip folds (lip-fold pyodermas). Mouth injuries range from foreign bodies lodged in the mouth or throat to infections from quills or splinters stuck in the mouth to electrical or chemical burns. Abscessed or broken teeth are also common.

Gingivitis and periodontal disease are preventable with regular tooth brushing and veterinary cleanings as needed. Dogs that have an overshot jaw (one in which the upper jaw protrudes beyond the lower jaw) or an undershot jaw (in which the lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper jaw) may need orthodontic treatment if the problem is causing the teeth to become crowded or displaced. Dogs whose bites must be corrected orthodontically should not be bred, to keep them from passing on the deformity. In most cases, however, an incorrect bite doesn't cause serious problems, and no treatment is necessary. In fact, for some breeds, such as the Shih Tzu, an undershot bite is desirable.

Craniomandibular osteopathy, or CMO, is a painful inherited condition that's seen in certain terriers, as well as some other breeds. It usually develops in puppies at four to ten months of age and results from excess bone deposits along the underside of the jaw and on other parts of the jaw and skull. Puppies with CMO usually run a fever, drool, and have little appetite. Aspirin in amounts prescribed by your veterinarian can help control the pain, and the condition sometimes improves with maturity, although complete recovery is rare.

Cancers of the mouth are rare in dogs, but they can occur. Types of cancer that can affect the mouth are melanomas, squamous cell carcinomas, granular cell tumors, and mast cell tumors. They are treatable if caught in time, but may require surgery and radiation therapy.

Care of the Mouth

To keep your dog's mouth healthy, examine it weekly for signs of injury or illness. Things to look for include raised or bumpy tissue, sores, broken teeth, and bruises or bleeding from the tongue, gums, or roof of the mouth. Look under the tongue to make sure nothing is wedged beneath it. And, of course, check your dog's mouth any time he's drooling or pawing at his mouth or throat. That's dogspeak for “Help! I'm choking!” Your dog probably loves chewing on sticks, but they're not good for him. Splinters can get stuck in the mouth or tongue, causing an infection. Buy him regular chew toys instead.

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