Friday, August 18, 2017

When The Perfect Smile Isn't Perfect

Anyone who has spent even 30 seconds browsing our Instagram page knows that Barley is basically the smiliest dog in the world, especially when we visit the arboretum.

A post shared by Beth (@eedevore) on
As you can probably guess, having anything happen to that smile would devastate me. And that is exactly what happened in January when I noticed that one of Barley's upper canine teeth had a slight chip in it. I noticed the chip about a week before her annual check up and I spent many hours debating moving the appointment up, but Barley was her normally, happy, smiley self and didn't mind me lifting her lip or poking at her tooth, so we waited it out.

By the time we got her appointment, the tooth was discolored and our vet said that usually means that a nerve has been affected. She said she could pull the tooth, but since it is a large tooth, it would be a complicated extraction because of the longer roots. She also said that a veterinary dentist might be able to repair the tooth. I decided to take a little time to think about our options.

A Google search revealed that there are 157 active diplomates of the American Veterinary Dental College, which is the program in which vets complete an additional residency (just like human doctors do when they specialize in something like cardiology or psychiatry) for several more years to become board certified in dental care. These vets receive training in more advanced dental care than the extractions and cleanings that other vets are trained in. None of these 157 diplomates are located in the state of Ohio. There was one in Pittsburgh, but depending on what part of the city you're going to, that's at least 2 hours from our house--doable if necessary, but not easy, especially during the semester when it's hard enough to find time for an appointment at our local vet between classes. There was, however, a veterinary dentist about an hour from my parents' house.

We decided to wait and watch the tooth. I wasn't mentally prepared for Barley to lose such a big tooth even though I trusted our vet to be able to extract it if necessary.

For months, Barley continued to smile, to walk her daily 3+ miles, to go to agility class, to wrestle and tug with Rye, and to eat normally. She wasn't favoring that side of her mouth or acting like she was in pain when she'd play with Rye. So, I continued to just watch.

Then about two weeks ago, I noticed that tooth had chipped a little more and was missing a larger portion. I also noticed that her other upper canine had a tiny chip that looked like the first tooth started out, except it wasn't discolored. I knew we needed to do something.

The slightly chipped tooth.

The discolored broken tooth.

We had a trip to my parents' house planned, so I researched the veterinary dentist near their house. The website was very thorough in explaining his training and the different types of procedures that could be done. My Googling didn't reveal any negative reviews for his practice, so I reached out to him to explain our situation. 

The vet explained that he didn't like to extract teeth like canines if there were other options and said he'd be happy to meet with us while we were in town and then try to fit us in for surgery during our visit if necessary. 

We scheduled an appointment for the first full day of our visit. The vet tech took us back to the exam room and asked me to show her the teeth I was concerned about. While she was looking, she pointed out that it looked like Barley's right upper 4th premolar had a slab fracture as well, which the vet confirmed when he came in.

The vet took a lot of time to show us pictures and diagrams of the teeth that were affected. He explained that he didn't like to pull canines because they were such a big part of the structure of a dog's mouth. Without them, the upper lip could sag a bit and sores could form from the lower teeth rubbing on the lip. The tongue could also suffer from dryness since the teeth wouldn't be there to hold them in. He recommended a root canal to keep the tooth from getting infected and abscessing. With the premolar, much of the tooth is under the gum, so the vet explained that he couldn't tell how far the fracture went up without x-rays, but if it was fractured up under the gum then extraction would be better than a root canal because bacteria and food could get trapped in the gum where the fracture was. 

After he'd answered all of our questions and discussed our options, he said he'd look at the schedule for the week and see where he could fit Barley in for the procedure. About an hour later, the office called to let us know they could fit her in Friday.

We had to drop her off between 7 and 8 a.m. and they said since they were fitting her in, she'd have to be with them most of the day. I hated that I'd have to leave Barley all day long, but I ended up having a lovely time with my mom and Rye while we waited for Barley to be ready for us to pick her up. 

I was finally able to pick Barley up a little after 3:00. The vet spent a little while explaining the procedure: she'd needed the extraction of the premolar, the discolored tooth had needed the root canal, but the other canine didn't have an exposed nerve, so they just smooth it out a little and said it wasn't a problem right now. He also showed me the photos and x-rays they'd taken, which showed the premolar was starting to abscess although the canine wasn't and he explained the different medications (an anti-inflammatory pain medicine, a regular pain medicine, and an antibiotic).

When they finally brought Barley out to me, she was so excited and wagging her whole body. She curled around my legs like a cat and didn't want to leave my side. Everyone in the office loved her and asked if she did any therapy dog work--and I had to explain the whole wet grass thing.

My poor girl was so loopy that she wasn't entirely sure how to get in the car, but she also wasn't sure she wanted my help with that, either. Eventually, we got settled and she cried almost the whole ride home unless I was reaching back between the rows of seats and keeping my hand on her. Once we got back to my parents' house, she just wandered around and it was obvious she was confused about just about everything. 

I felt like a nurse for a few days as I handed out multiple pills a day (not to mention that Rye and Soth were also on medication), but after about 24 hours, Barley was less confused except for the hours right after her pain medicine was administered. The vet had said she could resume activity when she wanted to as long as she wasn't carrying things in her mouth, so I just let Barley decide what she felt like doing. She thought she might want to go for a walk the day after her surgery, but we made it .25-miles before she decided she wanted to go back to the house. The next day, though, she made it for two miles (but then decided she didn't feel like an evening walk). By Monday, she wanted to play with Rye and I had to keep refereeing to make sure she didn't put Rye's head in her mouth or try to play tug with Rye. She was back to a full three miles of walking between her morning and evening walk by Monday.

We came home on Tuesday and she handled 14 hours in the car like a champion. I decided to keep her home from agility this week and took Rye instead--which Barley was not happy about. The vet said she could do agility again when she felt ready, but since she was still on pain medicine, I didn't want her to be confused or have a negative reaction to her classmates because of it. Rye had fun running off energy after a day of travel and Barley will be back to her routine next week.

She's done with all of her medications and seems to be feeling 100% like herself. She still has stitches in her mouth from the extraction, so she has another week of wet food only and no tugging with Rye, but she wants to be back to her normal life. I had to intervene when she tried to grab a stick from Rye and she's snuck snacks out of the trash can on more than one occasion despite my efforts to make sure she's only eating soft things.

We have a follow up appointment with our regular vet next week just to make sure the stitches absorbed properly and everything has healed, but my happy girl is already back to her usual smiley self.


  1. good to see the she is back to normal after her surgery,xx Speedy

    1. Thank you! She's ready to be back to her normal food and normal play schedule, but we're both happy she's not in pain anymore!

  2. Sounds like it all went pretty smoothly in the end. Glad she is on the mend.

    Koira had a canine tooth removed a few years ago. We haven't had any trouble with it- none of the stuff listed above has happened, and you wouldn't know it was missing if you didn't look at her teeth.

    1. I'm so glad that things turned out well for Koira! I can hardly tell the tooth Barley had extracted is missing, but her other front teeth are so weirdly tiny that I was worried about how she'd be affected by losing such a big tooth in the front.

  3. Sounds like your dental vet was pretty awesome. So far, paws crossed, Mom has never had dental issues with any of her dogs. We hope to keep it that way, but this is good information in case we have trouble. Never thought about a dog dentist! Heal well, Barley!

    1. This vet was awesome! Barley is almost 100% better--we have a couple more days until our follow up just to make sure the stitches were absorbed and there's no more sign of infection, but but otherwise she's ready to get back to her normal life :)

  4. I'm so glad everything went so well! It worked out well for you to find such a competent dentist in a place that was convenient for you. It sounds like they were very thorough and Barley was in very good hands. I'm sure you'll be happy when everything gets back to 100% normal (and you can all have popcorn again!).
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. Our checkup with our vet is today, so I am keeping my fingers cross that we will be having popcorn for dinner ;)

  5. Phew, I'm so glad it turned out so well. I think I'll be researching this as Sampson has that one bad tooth. I had no idea there were Canine Dentists!

    1. I had no idea, either! They can do SO much with dental work now besides just pulling a tooth--and I've seen such a difference in Barley's behavior since she had this done that I feel bad we didn't do it sooner! I had no idea she was in pain--but she is so much happier and more relaxed (and more patient with Rye) now that we've done this!