What to do about my dog's mouth problem??
June 6, 2012 6:06 PM   Subscribe

My adult dog lost a tooth a couple weeks ago after chewing on a Nylabone. I took the bone away, and was planning to make an appointment for cleaning/ scaling in a month or so, when I could afford it. Today I found another tooth and now I'm more worried that this is something that can't wait. Help please!

My dog (a small rescue mutt who I think is about 7 years old, I've had her for 5 years) has always had bad breath. I mentioned my concern about it to her vet before and he just looked at her teeth and said "Actually they don't look that bad to me, you could get them cleaned if you want but I'm not worried." So I didn't worry too much about it, I'd been meaning to get her teeth cleaned soon but hadn't gotten around to it yet.

I make it a point to give her only dry dog food and dry crunchy treats so as not to make her breath worse. Same with bones, I used to give her rawhide sometimes but chewing them makes her kind of gross and stinky so I stopped giving them to her. When I was at home a few weeks ago, my mom bought some stuff for her including a Nylabone. She's had those before, so I figured it would be ok and let her chew on it. A couple days later I noticed one of her front bottom teeth was gone! I took away the bone and planned to schedule a vet appointment for her to get a cleaning soon, like in July. (I'm a student and currently in-between loans now, I can barely even pay my own bills until I get my next loan in July.)

But today, just now, I found another one of her teeth that had fallen out, and I'm really worried about her. (Front top tooth, if it matters, the same side/spot as the other one that fell out.) Now that I think of it, her breath has been kind of worse than usual lately, although it's bad most of the time so I wasn't sure whether I was just imagining it.

She hasn't seemed to be in any pain as far as I can tell- she eats normally, no bleeding, the tooth didn't have any blood on it, etc. That's why originally I figured it could wait a few more weeks- I thought it was maybe just a random thing, mostly caused by the Nylabone. Now I'm concerned there's something more serious going on. I'd take her to the vet this second if I wasn't flat broke, but I am. I don't know what to do.

So my questions are:
-If I keep an eye on what she's chewing (that is, don't let her chew anything but food basically) will she be okay for a few more weeks? Is there anything I can do to help her right now (like, will brushing her teeth help or exacerbate the problem?) Is it possible the second tooth was also mostly loosened by the Nylabone and just took a little longer to come out completely? (Like I said the two teeth she lost were a top and bottom one in the same spot, presumably the spot she was using to chew. So hopefully the other teeth in her mouth are not in immediate danger of falling out.)
-For those of you who have experienced this, what was the outcome and how much did it cost? Is it likely that she will need to get more teeth removed or might this be something reversible? Are there any signs/ symptoms I should be on the lookout for that would indicate that this is getting serious and she needs immediate treatment?
-If this is something that really can't wait, are there any vets that offer payment plans or billing, in Chicago? I know the answer is probably no, but I can't imagine that I'd be approved for CareCredit. My credit sucks at the moment. I guess I could beg her previous vet to work out some sort of billing with me, but I'm hesitant because he was the one that dismissed my concerns in the first place. Plus, I've moved since then so it's a good 45 min to an hour away. I'd been planning to find a new vet. I do *know* a vet in the area that I've done some freelance work for, but have never taken my dog to him- would it be inappropriate for me to ask him to help me out in some way? (E.g. Maybe he'd consider working out a billing plan with me and in return I'd do some work for him for free, or something, I don't know.) I don't know what the etiquette would be on that sort of thing. I could maybe ask my parents to spot me if it's a true emergency (I'm not sure if it is?) or if it was only going to be $100-200 (but I expect it's going to be a lot more than that.)

Any other helpful thoughts or suggestions? Thanks.
posted by GastrocNemesis to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
I had a dog get a number of teeth pulled, and it was more than $100-200, but I can't remember exactly, and it will probably vary anyway. The expensive part of this is they have to put the dog completely under and monitor its vital signs, etc. No doggy Novocain, unfortunately.

IANAV. What I would do is keep an eye on your dog for signs of infection. Having open sores in her mouth where teeth used to be could lead to various nasties finding their way into her system. (Does your dog eat poop or other icky things sometimes?? Make sure she doesn't do that anymore.) I don't think it's an emergency, but it's definitely something you want to get looked at sooner rather than later.

I think asking for payment options or proposing a barter is not out of line at all, especially if you have a previous relationship with the vet. Or look for a vet with their own practice, rather than one affiliated with PetSmart or a chain of clinics, as they might be in a position to be more flexible with repayment schedules.

I don't think brushing would be bad at all, if your dog will let you. You might have to work your way up to full-on brushing. Some dogs don't like you putting your finger near their mouth, so go slow.

You could also try adding a little warm water to your dog's kibble to soften it a bit. Be aware through, when I did this for my dog, I thought it smelled like Rotting Corpse. He thought it smelled wonderful, of course!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:31 PM on June 6, 2012

Bad breath and tooth-loss isn't good a sign. I know that a lot of dogs have some pretty gnarly breath, and a lot of those dogs suffer from periodontal disease. It is not possible for you accruately assess the extent of your pup's dental issues. If I were in your shoes I'd make an appointment with a veterinarian ASAP. A vet is the only person who has the authority and knowledge to determine if this is something that needs advanced treatment.

This is not medical advice and I am not a vet, but my guess is that you're dog is going to need a full dental exam under general anesthesia. The general anesthesia is important because it's considerably safer. The instruments used during a dental exam are really sharp and should not be used on an awake of sedated dog. Not to mentioned that awake and sedated dogs can bite.

Unfortunately this is going to cost you a chunk of change. But your pup needs and deserves it, so you should try your hardest to figure out a way to finance it.

Start by making an appointment for an exam at the vet as soon as you can.
posted by OsoMeaty at 6:40 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, veterinary medicine is moving towards increased specialization. Companion animal dentistry is complex and has a HUGE impact on overall health. I would recommend you (and all pet owners) visit the American Veterinary Dental College's website .
posted by OsoMeaty at 6:44 PM on June 6, 2012

Can you take a look at how the gums look? Pale pink gums and white/yellowish teeth is what it should be. If you see any inflammation, swelling, blood, red gums etc. this is not good - your dog could even have already lost more teeth without you noticing if there is gum disease prevalent.

A dog’s teeth are designed to chew on flesh and bones so it can be a sign of serious issues if teeth fall out - they usually don’t and chewing is healthy for dog's dental health. If there are issues with the gums, teeth can rot and fall out, in which case you would have to have some blood work done and possibly even teeth extracted (your description sounds like it went already beyond the usual teeth cleaning stage). It involves anesthesia and antibiotics - it is that serious.
You should get the dog to the vet, as bacteria from gum disease can get into the bloodstream and cause even worse problems (affect kidneys or the heart for example).
posted by travelwithcats at 6:56 PM on June 6, 2012

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I had already been planning to get her an appointment in July for a full, serious cleaning (under anesthesia) before this losing-teeth thing happened, just due to her breath. So I'm already aware of and okay with the procedure and the use of anesthesia, and I know it's expensive. The problem was just that I was planning it for when I would have money (in a month) and now that it's suddenly more pressing I'm trying to figure out the best way to proceed with limited resources and/ or how to determine whether it could wait until then.

It's hard to tell because she has black gums, but they don't look too inflamed to me and I don't see blood. The tooth that fell out definitely looked deceptive when it was in her mouth. I always thought her little front teeth were so cute and white- from the front, they are!- but the back of the tooth has buildup and the root part looks pretty gray. I guess I can't blame my vet for not noticing, the visible part of the tooth really didn't look too bad, but the root looks bad now that it's out. I'm going to dig up my penlight and try to take a closer look in her mouth.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 7:37 PM on June 6, 2012

You could apply for care credit and just see if you get approved. I don't think it's as selective as regular credit cards. when I got it the 6th month repayment plan had little to no interest. I think you need at least an assessment appointment. Maybe there is something you can do in the meantime while scheduling major dental work for July but you won't know until you visit the vet.
posted by oneear at 8:45 PM on June 6, 2012

Definitely apply for care credit. Sounds like she may have serious periodontal disease, she may have bone loss which is what is causing the loose teeth. I would also see a different vet, frankly, any vet who doesn't explain that you can't possibly judge the health of a dog's teeth without x-rays is not a vet who understands dentistry, in my experience. And any vet who thinks dentistry is just "cleaning" and doesn't really explain how important it likely is for a 7 year old dog is not a vet I would be paying to do a dental on my dog. Teeth can look fine and be rotting away below the gumline. In my own dogs, I have one whose teeth are always white and beautiful, and who's needed two extractions because of resorptive lesions (only visible on x-ray), and two dogs who build up tartar and calculus like nobody's business, but whose teeth are actually very healthy other than that. Do not have a dental done without full-mouth x-rays and a vet who knows how to read them. It is a waste of money to just have a cleaning done without x-rays, the point is not just to have the teeth look better and be cleaned of tartar, the point is for the dog to have a healthier mouth at the end of the procedure.

And do not give dogs Nylabones, they are far too hard and can cause tooth breakage.
posted by biscotti at 8:54 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Look, I didn't mean to scare or accuse you. It's good you had planned a visit. It is just that you speak of a serious cleaning yet the situation could require more/be worse. It could, does not mean it is. But usually tooth decay happens on the 'outside', the visible part, if the decay happens in the root then it could be due to inflammations inside the gums (I have seen teeth that looked pretty and white but had no roots anymore, all rotted away).
Would it be possible to meet the new vet you know for a quick walk/coffee/visit and let them have a look and tell you what their opinion is? (Assuming you dog is okay with people having a better look in her mouth). Maybe if you buy coffee/bring a cupcake etc. there will be no charge and you can decide from there what/when to have a proper vet visit, if you can't swing it now.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:00 PM on June 6, 2012

I'm not your vet, so this isn't medical advice.

You should totally call the vet that you do freelance work for. I'm a vet, and have worked out barters in the past with great results. The people looking for care gave me excellent and very specific quotes for work they would do, and they always did it quickly. This is totally not weird and could be beneficial for both parties. The only caveat is, please don't expect him to dispense meds, he will probably write a prescription and you will need to fill it at a pharmacy. Consider this when bidding the work you do.

Good luck!
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:08 PM on June 6, 2012

Response by poster: After much Googling I came up with the same general impression about CareCredit being less selective, which gives me some hope. I also looked at a bunch of reviews of vet clinics and it looks like the reviews for the guy I know are kind of mixed. So instead I went ahead and submitted a request online for an appointment with a different clinic that sounds really good- I think I can scrape up enough to cover the initial appointment and then try to get approved for CareCredit for whatever work needs to be done. If I don't get approved, then I'll try calling the vet I know.

Thanks for all the advice. It's just really frustrating, I thought I was being a good pet owner, I'm so careful about so much stuff but I completely missed this thing that I now realize is a huge deal. I should have trusted my instincts and gotten a second opinion but I just . . . didn't. It just makes me so upset to think that she must be feeling crappy, and probably has for a while and I didn't realize it, and if she needs to get a bunch of teeth pulled it will be so sad. Poor baby.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:33 PM on June 6, 2012

Glad that you've decided to take her in!

Bad breath? Yeah, it's a dog. Missing teeth? Yikes.

In my experience, all the vets that I've been to got into the business because they love and care about animals, I don't think it would be out of line at all to call the vet you've been doing freelance for and explaining your concerns. If he thinks your dog might have an issue, explain your situation and ask if he's able to work out a payment plan.

You've worked for him before, so (I assume) he knows that you're responsible and will be able to follow through with the payments.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 10:29 PM on June 6, 2012

Bad breath is not normal in a healthy dog (unless the dog just ate poop or something, and that is temporary bad breath). Bad breath usually means there is something wrong somewhere, either in the mouth or the GI system. Healthy dogs should have neutral or nice-smelling breath as a general rule.

And GastrocNemesis, do not worry! You are trying to do the best you can for your pup. Please also keep in mind that having unhealthy teeth extracted is much healthier for her than keeping them. People always get all freaked out about extractions, but really, missing teeth are far less of a big deal than unhealthy teeth are, by far (and they are far less of a big deal than they are in people). Missing teeth do not affect a dog's lifespan, an unhealthy mouth most definitely does. Good luck!
posted by biscotti at 7:02 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A gray root sounds like the root died. If it weren't for the second tooth, I'd say this one got injured somehow and just died, and loosened enough to come out when she was chewing on the bone. In fact, actually, since both teeth were in the same spot (although upper and lower) there's a tiny possibility that might still be the case. Try for care credit (they are discriminating; I was turned down), and most vets, at least in my area, won't work with you on a payment plan. However, if you can afford an office visit, do so. They'll at least be able to tell you how urgent further work would be. From there you can proceed: start with trying care credit, then trying to get the vet to work with you, then calling the vet you know to barter (if your credit is actually awful this might be your best chance, but it may be your credit is not awful, just not top notch and care credit will accept your app, and certainly you're not going to find out without trying). If none of those avenues work, could you borrow a bit from your parents, and then sell some things to make up the balance? I've done the emergency sale thing. It sucks, but it's sometimes an option. Camera you're not using? Crates of books? Anything helps.

If there is an infection, you may be able to get by with a course of antibiotics, and regular tooth brushings to stimulate the gums, for a month until you're able to afford the cleaning. I have no idea if that's possible because I am not an expert, but the vet should be able to tell you.

Losing teeth sucks, but I know plenty of humans and animals who are still basically ok and happy with missing teeth, so don't beat yourself up over it. I too have had to do the scrabble around for money to take care of a pet, multiple times, so I get it.
posted by thelastcamel at 7:40 AM on June 7, 2012

FWIW, and since money is a concern, check to see if your local spca runs a vet clinic. I had a cat who needed dental cleaning/care and the privately run vet wanted close to a thousand dollars, and the spca vet charged far less than 200 bux.
Been going there since, and I've never been happier with any vet care provider.
posted by k8oglyph at 3:25 PM on June 7, 2012

My pup lost two teeth right next to each other. She was missing one when she came to live with me (she was a rescue who'd been on the street for several months). One day, a couple of years after I got her, I noticed another tooth was missing. Her gums are normally pink, and the spot where the missing teeth had been was gray. Her vet thought it was the result of the same injury that caused the first tooth to go. She never seemed in any pain or distress over it, and all the rest of her teeth (and her gums everywhere else) have been healthy since. She chomps on raw bones that make my teeth hurt just to hear it.
I felt terrible when I discovered the missing tooth -- guilty I'd maybe done something wrong, afraid she was going to lose more teeth, worried she would suffer -- so much badness. But I took her to the vet, got her checked out, and we're both fine now. You and your girl will be too.
posted by katemonster at 4:20 PM on June 7, 2012

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