The main function of the mouth is to get and begin processing food into the digestive system. The other functions of the mouth are communication, social interaction, grooming, heat regulation and protection. The actions of the mouth such as chewing, swallowing and even picking up the food, require complex interaction of the muscle of the jaw, tongue, upper throat and teeth. If any of these are compromised by disease or trauma, it can result in malnutrition and dehydration. Oral diseases are treated more effectively when diagnosis early, and so a complete examination of the mouth should be undertaken regularly by a veterinarian. If the mouth is not examined, many diseases can remain un-diagnosed and progress to an advanced stage which may be much more difficult to treat.
While gum disease is the most common oral problem in small animals, there are other causes of oral inflammatory conditions which include chemicals, infections, immune system disease, metabolic disease, burns, radiation treatment, cancer, developmental abnormalities and trauma. Canine Distemper Virus and Leptospirosis have been associated with oral inflammation. Inflammation due to trauma to the mouth has been seen after a dog has attempted to eat sharp plant material or fiberglass insulation. The houseplant Dieffenbachia, which is also known as Dumb Cane or the mother in law plant, can cause inflammation and oral sore if chewed. Chronic kidney failure can also cause oral sores and inflammation. The symptoms of oral inflammation can depend on the cause and severity but may include loss of appetite, bad breath, drooling, pain, blood in the saliva and the animal may paw at the mouth. The animal may also resist any attempt to examine the mouth. It is also possible that the lymph nodes in the area may be enlarged.
Chronic Ulcerative Stomatitis
Chronic Ulcerative Stomatitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth. The symptoms include sever gum inflammation, receding gums and large sores near the larger teeth. This is commonly seen in Greyhounds, but has been recorded in Maltese, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers and some other breeds. The most distinctive feature of Chronic Ulcerative Stomatitis is a sore or ulcer where the lip and tooth surface touch. It is most commonly seen on the inner upper lip near the canine teeth of the upper jaw. These ulcers are also known as kissing ulcers because of their location. This disease is the result of a dysfunction of the immune system. The immune system responds to plaque with excessive inflammation which results in ulcers. Plaque control may help. This is done by thorough professional cleaning and at home dental hygiene, including tooth brushing. The veterinarian may also prescribe antibacterial measures such as gels, or topical chlorhexidine rinses. If it is a severe case, a topical anti-inflammatory preparation may give the animal some pain relief. The ulcers can cause discomfort which can make giving oral medication and tooth brushing difficult. If this is extremely severe, it may become necessary to extract the teeth which have contact with the lip. Doing this will prevent the accumulation of plaque on contact surfaces. However, plaque can build up on all surfaces and this method may only cure the sores but not the problem.
Lip Fold Dermatitis
Lip fold dermatitis can occur in breeds with lower lip folds and drooling upper lips such as Bulldogs, Spaniels, and Saint Bernards. Moisture can accumulate which may cause the development of inflammation. Poor oral hygiene can make the condition worse as the bacterial count may be quite high. The lip fold of the lower lip may be inflamed, swollen, uncomfortable and have a foul smell. Treatment for this condition includes clipping the hair, keeping the area dry and cleaning the folds with a mild skin cleanser or benzoyl peroxide once or twice per day. The veterinarian may also instruct the owner to apply a topical diaper rash cream daily. If the condition is severe, it may be corrected surgically which has a longer lasting effect.
It is common to find lip wounds as a result of chewing on sharp objects or fights. Lip wounds can be mild or severe. It is also possible for some objects such as thorns, fish hooks, plant burrs and grass awns to become embedded in the lips which can cause severe irritation and wounds. Other irritants may cause lip inflammation such as plant materials or plastic. Lip wounds should be cleaned thoroughly and sutured by the veterinarian, if sutures are necessary.
Severe gum disease or severe inflammation in the mouth can cause lip inflammation or cheilitis. The animal can help the spread of infection to the lips and lip folds by licking bacterial dermatitis and infection in other areas. Lip inflammation is also connected with parasitic infections, tumors, and autoimmune skin diseases. Lip inflammation can vary in terms of how long the inflammation lasts. The symptoms include foul breath smell, excessive saliva, refusal to eat, pawing or rubbing at the lip or mouth. The symptoms of a chronic lip fold infection can include open sores, red skin, thick yellow or brown discharge covering the hair in the area, with the hair being discolored, matted and moist. The infection can spread to other parts of the body which can be easily diagnosed by the accompanying lip inflammation.Lip inflammation which is not related to the lip folds, usually requires appropriate antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection, minimal cleansing and treatment of the specific cause of the inflammation. Treating the animal for periodontitis or inflammation of the mouth will be necessary to prevent recurring inflammation.
Infectious cheilitis, with the mouth as a secondary location, will require treatment of the primary location in addition to treating the lip or mouth area. If the infection is severe, hair may need to be clipped from the affected area and the area will then be cleaned and dried gently. In the case of spreading or severe infection, the veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics.
An overgrowth of a fungus, Candida albicans, can result in Fungal Stomatitis. It can cause oral inflammation but it not a common cause. The most noticeable symptom is creamy white flat areas appearing on the tongue or mucous membranes. These creamy white areas are known as plaques. Fungal Stomatitis is associated with other oral diseases, long-term antibiotic use, or a suppressed immune system. The fungal infection and the underlying cause should be both be treated. The owner should follow the veterinarians instructions regarding diet and treatment to control the fungus very carefully. If the underlying disease is not treated or controlled properly then the prognosis for the animal may be poor.
Trenchmouth is a relatively uncommon disease. The symptoms include severe gum inflammation, ulceration, and tissue death in the mouth lining. The exact cause is unknown but some believe that it may be caused by the normal bacteria and other microorganisms in the mouth after some other factor increases their levels or decreases the natural resistance to infection. The potential factors are a poor diet, excessive use of corticosteroids and stress. The first symptoms are reddened and swollen gum edges which will bleed easily and may progress to receding gums. The disease may then progress to areas of the inner mouth and can, in severe cases, cause sores and exposed bone. The animal may refuse to eat due to pain and will have severe bad breath. There may be excessive drooling and blood tinged saliva. This disease is diagnosis through elimination. Once other possible causes have been eliminated. The treatment usually includes professional cleaning of the wounds, antibiotics, oral antiseptics, regular oral hygiene and treatment for gum disease.