Zeus off his bones

Zeus is an 8 year old Bouvier Des Flandres who loves his bones. He used to get them regularly and would spend time chewing each ounce of beef off the bones. However, in the last few months he has been spending less and less time with his bones. Zeus still enjoys his dry food and has a great appetite for everything else.

It was that time of the year for his routine visit to us for a vaccination and check up. On examination it was noted that the decrease in bone chewing time has resulted in more plaque and tartar building up on all his teeth. He was also starting to get a mild inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis. His breath was also starting to smell more than usual. Besides some evidence of periodontal disease, he passed the physical exam with flying colours.

Plaque is a clear, sticky, film-like residue that adheres to the teeth above or below the gum line. It contains a variety of bacteria that can cause tooth decay, tartar formation or gingivitis. When plaque is not removed from the teeth, it combines with minerals in saliva to form tartar (calculus). Tartar is hard and rough, and cannot be removed by brushing. It can only be removed by professional dental scaling. When tartar builds up, it harbours a large number of bacteria that will cause inflammation of the gums around the tooth and also affects other distant organs such as the heart and kidneys. Hence, dental health and hygiene is not only important for us humans but also for our furry friends.

Zeus had a pre-anaesthetic blood test performed to check that all his other organs were still in tip-top shape. Then he was put under general anaesthesia for a dental scale and polish. Dental x-rays were taken of Zeus' teeth that were more severely affected by tartar build up than others. It was noted that in several of his teeth there was evidence of root resorption. Root resorption is more commonly seen in cats than in dogs but causes pain and discomfort in both species. It can be a difficult condition to diagnose without the help of dental x-rays. For Zeus, the affected teeth looked 'healthy' on gross examination once the plaque and tartar were removed but dental x-rays revealed extensive root resorption. These teeth would have gone on to resorb further and fall out eventually but until then they would be causing him some dull toothache. The affected teeth were removed and his gums sutured together with an absorbable suture material.

Two weeks later Zeus is back to gnawing at his favourite bones again, with a vengeance! His owners have noticed an improvement in his general demeanor as well. It just goes to show that pain or discomfort in dogs can be hard to detect and also with dental disease, there is always more to it than what you see.