Dental disease can sometimes progress to the point where teeth need to be extracted. If the idea of your pet having a tooth pulled seems alarming, we want to help you understand why the extraction is necessary. We also want to assure you that your pet will feel a lot better without the unhealthy tooth causing pain, discomfort, or other health problems.
During a regular physical exam when your pet is awake, we may be able to easily determine that a tooth is unhealthy enough to require extraction. For example, a fractured tooth, a loose tooth, or a severely diseased tooth and gum line can stand out as reasons for us to recommend dental extractions. Sometimes we even see evidence of tooth root abscesses. Severe tooth root abscesses can appear as swellings under the eye (over the tooth root region). When we see dental changes such as these, they likely mean your pet is uncomfortable, painful, or having other symptoms that need to be addressed. Getting the tooth (or teeth) out will remove the problems all together.
When an animal resists having their mouth examined during a regular physical exam, it can be difficult for us to appreciate the full extent of the dental disease. Adult dogs have 42 teeth, and adult cats have 30 teeth – many patients will not give us enough time to look at all of those teeth! While we may see enough evidence to recommend a dental cleaning, often it is not until the animal is comfortably asleep under anesthesia that we can fully appreciate the severity of the dental problems. After inspecting the mouth thoroughly under anesthesia, we are able to identify unhealthy teeth that are in need of extraction.
What is involved with extracting a tooth? If a tooth is severely diseased, the tooth may easily come out with gentle extraction techniques. Most teeth, however, are still fairly well attached and require careful surgical extraction. Depending on the tooth, we may be working with a single-root or multiple-root tooth. As you can imagine, the more roots the tooth has, the more steps that can be involved with the extraction. Care is always taken to protect the facial bones and soft tissue structures around the tooth being extracted.
Many owners wonder if their pets will be able to eat normally after teeth are extracted. Yes! In the short term, as the mouth is healing, your pet will be on pain control to manage the discomfort. We may also instruct you to feed a soft diet for a period of time. Depending on the location of the extractions and the number of teeth extracted, we will always work with you to come up with a plan that will keep your pet comfortable and happy long after the extractions.
Overall, one of the most important things to keep in mind about dental extractions is that removing a diseased, unsalvageable tooth will not only take away that focal problem, it will also contribute to keeping the rest of the mouth healthy. Leaving unhealthy teeth behind would mean continued patient discomfort and the potential for the problem to spread (in the mouth, or in the body). By extracting unhealthy teeth, your pet will feel so much better overall!
Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS