Fears are common and often immobilizing. Those with a fear of flying do not travel on airplanes. A fear of drowning prevents swimming. Many pet owners have common fears when it concerns oral and dental care for their pet:
- Fear of anesthesia
- Fear of a tooth root being left behind during an extraction
- Fear of a jaw being broken during a tooth extraction
- Fear of disfigurement if a tumor has to be removed from a jaw with partial removal of the jaw.
Tooth roots left behind or a jaw breaking during an extraction can occur if extractions are performed by someone that has not had sufficient training to prevent these complications and if dental x-rays are not taken before and during surgery. The best way to prevent these complications and to alleviate fears, is to ask some hard questions:
- Will dental x-rays be taken before and during surgery? (Correct answer: yes)
- Who performs the extractions or oral surgery? (Correct answer: The veterinarian performs extractions)
- Will there be sutures (stitches) at the extraction site? (Correct answer: yes)
If the answer to question #1 is no, then do not proceed with surgery at that clinic. If the answer to #2 is not the doctor, again, do not proceed with surgery at that clinic. If the extraction sites are not closed appropriately with sutures, do not proceed with surgery at that clinic. Seek care where all three questions can be answered correctly. You may also locate a Board Certified Dentist nearest you by visiting www. avdc.org.
Fear of disfigurement is also common, especially when part of the pet’s jaw will need to be removed in order to remove the cancer in the mouth. Sometimes, this fear causes the inappropriate surgery decision to “shave the tumor off” repeatedly. Many tumors invade the bone of the jaw. By shaving off the tumor at the gum and not removing it completely with 1-2 centimeter margins, the “root” of the tumor continues to grow where it is often unseen: in the bone. This causes more pain for the pet, and will necessitate a more extensive surgery than if the tumor is removed completely in the beginning. In many cases, partial jaw removal can be curative, relieves pain, is cosmetic, and the pet eats and plays well, after healing. Some tumors can spread from the jaw to other parts of the body. If not treated early in the disease, the pet’s life may be in jeopardy. It is in the pet’s best interest NOT to shave off tumors, but to have an appropriate diagnosis made with biopsy and x-rays. Surgery is planned pending the biopsy result.
Questions to ask if your pet has a tumor in the mouth:
- Will a biopsy be performed?
- Will dental x-rays be taken?
If both answers to these questions are not “YES”, seek care elsewhere (www.avdc.org to locate a specialist) to provide the best care for your pet.
Fear of anesthesia is, by far, the most common fear pet owners share during a consultation. The next blog post will address fear of anesthesia.
It is important to overcome fears in order to provide the oral and dental care your pet may have. Being immobilized by fear prevents this care and allows pets to remain in pain, sometimes for years.