Tooth decay or caries, as seen in man, may occur but is relatively rare in the dog and cat. Cats, however, are prone to developing a different type of cavity, known as a resorption lesion. These resorption lesions, also called cervical line lesions (CLL), are the most common dental disease of domestic cats. Studies show that about 28 percent of domestic cats that veterinarians examine have CLL. Because these poorly understood lesions often begin beneath the gumline, owners usually are unaware that there is a problem until the tooth is seriously damaged. Red, inflamed gums around an affected tooth, and pain are early signs that can be noticed by the pet owner. These lesions require immediate veterinary care.
Dental fractures are very common in the dog, and dental treatment is mandatory if pulp exposure has occurred. The exposed pulp is not only very painful, but also becomes necrotic; the formation of a periapical granuloma or "tooth abscess" is also possible. Endodontic treatment (commonly referred to as root canal treatment) is now routinely performed. Subsequent to endodontic treatment, the root canal opening is filled with a dental sealant. Crown restoration, for which various techniques exist, is also available. In selected cases, other methods of fixed prosthodontics, such as a bridge, may also be considered. Most veterinarians do not offer this service, but are happy to refer selected cases to referral centers.
In the field of orthodontics, attention is paid to the manner in which the teeth are arranged relative to one another (so-called "bite problems"). In evaluating a dog's bite, it is important examine all the teeth. Malpositioned teeth may be the result of teething problems and are not necessarily of genetic origin. On the other hand, evaluation of all the teeth may reveal that the bony structure supporting the teeth is abnormal, which is indeed hereditary. As many of these conditions may have a hereditary background, genetic counseling is always offered; it is often recommended that the animal be rendered incapable of reproduction. Corrective orthodontic treatment is restricted to conditions that obviously cause pain and discomfort to the patient. Both fixed and removable appliances, similar to those used in humans, have been used in animals with good results.
Oral surgery in pets includes extractions, jaw fracture repair and oral tumor management. Unfortunately not all teeth can be saved and extraction is often the treatment of choice. Extraction techniques have been refined in order to minimize the pain and discomfort. Prevention however, remains better than cure. Trauma in dogs and cats is common and jaw fractures occur relatively frequently. The management of jaw fractures is an important aspect of oral surgery. New techniques for fracture repair have been designed and existing techniques modified to minimize damage to teeth and ensure a rapid return to normal function.
Tumor cases account for another important group of oral surgery patients. Tumors of the mouth and throat are common in the dog but occur less frequently in the cat. Oral tumors frequently go unnoticed by the pets' owners until the tumor reaches a fairly advanced stage of development, making it more difficult to treat successfully. A variety of lesions may occur, including benign and malignant conditions. Non-cancerous masses and swellings such as gingival hyperplasia and infectious conditions may be confused with oral tumors. Conversely, oral malignancies may present as non-healing, ulcerated sores instead of "typical" prominent masses. Early recognition of suspicious swellings or persistent sores is critical and, when evident, should be brought to the attention of the veterinarian. Recently developed surgical techniques for removing oral tumors and radiotherapy are now available. These techniques often give excellent results, both in terms of cosmetic appearance and prognosis, provided they are applied at an early stage.