Veterinary dental nightmares and the importance of client education

by By Amber Barrett

9 min read

Warning: this post contains graphic images that, I promise you, only seasoned veterinary professionals can handle. If you’re not in veterinary medicine, don’t be a hero… walk away right now or, at the very least, skip the photos.

Now that we’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, I trust that I’m talking directly to my people: veterinary technicians, nurses, doctors, practice managers, and maybe even some horror-movie, true-crime, or medical fanatics. Vet techs know what they’re about to see: photographic evidence of dental neglect. 

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t even have these images to review, right? At every appointment, there would be plenty of time to fully educate pet owners on the importance of proper dental care and all pet owners would instantly retain and act on this vital information. Sadly that’s just not the case. 

Nevertheless, we do our best to educate and encourage clients because, in the end, it’s the pets who suffer when dental care is neglected. 

Veterinary dental nightmares — AKA the importance of client education

Alright, let’s get down to business. The following are real-world examples of pet dental nightmares that highlight the importance of client education, prevention, and vigilance. Each case holds a valuable lesson in what to watch out for and what to remind clients about.

Even if these cases aren’t new to you, remember that they are most likely new to your clients. They’re counting on you to help educate them on being the best pet owners possible.

Stage 4 Periodontal Disease

A graphic image of Stage 4 Periodontal Disease.  A second graphic image of Stage 4 Periodontal Disease.  A third graphic image of Stage 4 Periodontal Disease

These are the kind of photos where you swear you can smell them — yuck! Stage four periodontal disease is obviously the worst of the four stages. It presents with severe tartar accumulation, receded gum lines, root exposure, tooth damage and decay, and bone loss. 

The main client-education point here is that by the time the pet arrives at stage four, they are in severe pain and likely damaging other internal organs. Take your time educating pet owners on the importance of 6-month oral exams and yearly teeth cleanings to prevent this. What a perfect time to mimic human dentists and forward book your client’s next appointment before they leave their current appointment. You might also encourage clients to brush their pet’s teeth at home. For bonus points, show them how.  

Oral Fibrosarcomas

A graphic image of Oral Fibrosarcomas. A second graphic image of Oral Fibrosarcomas

Oral fibrosarcomas are cancerous tumors found in the mouth. And the two shown here are some of the worst we’ve seen — those poor pups! Surgery is usually required to remove these which certainly provides relief to the animals. 

It’s important to tell clients what to watch out for. Dogs may exhibit signs such as excessive drooling, panting, dropping food, bad breath, and loss of appetite. And, of course, doing 6-month oral exams and yearly teeth cleanings can help find these sooner. Looking for an easy way to discuss forward booking at your next meeting? Download this Forward-Booking Staff Meeting in-a-Box.

Feline Stomatitis aka Gingivostomatitis

A graphic image of Feline Stomatitis aka Gingivostomatitis  A second graphic image of Feline Stomatitis aka Gingivostomatitis

According to Jennifer Rawlinson, DVM, chief of the dentistry and oral surgery section at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “The immune system becomes overly reactive to plaque and causes severe inflammation in the gingiva, initially around an affected tooth and then quickly progressing to the tissue in the surrounding area. By the time a cat’s owner has noticed the inflammation, it is likely to have spread well beyond the tissue immediately around the affected tooth, potentially involving the tissue in the back of the mouth—the glossopalatine arch—and beneath the tongue.”

If you think that sounds incredibly painful for the cats, you’re sadly correct. Treatment can work for a period of time but most cases require a full mouth extraction. Clients should watch out for cats that have difficultly chewing, weight loss, bad breath, drooling, and bleeding. And again, doing 6-month oral exams and yearly teeth cleanings can help find these sooner so be sure to remind clients!

When in doubt, remind clients again — and again 

Gnarly examples, right? If you’re anything like me, reviewing each story left you feeling incredibly sorry for the pet and also renewed in your commitment to help educate pet owners on the importance of proper dental care and what can happen if left unattended.

How do you plan on promoting proper dental care this year and beyond? You can also check out Dr. Stacee Santi’s article on how to break free from the dreaded national pet dental health month.

Have a similar story to share? Reach out to us. 

*Photo credit: Amber Barrett, Tiana Plumley, and Brandi Davidson

Amber Barrett

Amber Barrett

Amber Barrett has 16 years of experience as a Veterinary Technician, working with large animals, small animals, pocket pets, and exotics. Beyond her love for animals, Amber also has a passion for numbers and a background in forensic accounting. She went to Arkansas State University to get her Associates in Business and she interned at a CPA office before making her way to VetSuccess as a Customer Support Specialist.

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