Cornell University Hospital for Animals


Hospital Services
Companion Animal

Companion Animal
(607) 253-3060

Medical Conditions

Dental disease

Dental disease is the most common disease of small animals. The most common types of dental disease among small animals include periodontal (gum) disease, endodontic (nerve) disease, and tooth resorption, where part or all of a tooth is lost because body cells attack the tooth.

Cavities or decay are not as frequent in dogs as they are in humans, and apparently do not affect cats.

Even though dental disease can be severe and painful, and seriously affect the general health status and quality of life of an individual, animals usually conceal their discomfort, so clinical signs and symptoms can be very subtle. Possible signs of dental disease include bad breath, excessive drooling, pawing at the face, difficulty eating, bleeding or recessed gums, and tooth loss.

Dental disease can be suspected based on reported symptoms and a conscious oral and physical examination. However, a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan can only be established with the animal under general anesthesia; the standard of care for the diagnosis of dental disease includes dental probing and charting, and full-mouth x-rays. Once a diagnosis is established, treatment is usually performed while the animal remains under anesthesia.

Common treatment for canine and feline dental disease includes ultrasonic scaling and polishing of teeth above and below the gumline, periodontal surgery, root canal therapy, extractions and fillings.

When properly diagnosed, most dental conditions are treatable and the prognosis is excellent. Adequately treated patients usually experience relief and owners normally notice a dramatic improvement in attitude, appetite and overall health.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Cats and dogs also present with diseases and conditions that require oral or maxillofacial surgery. The most common conditions include traumatic injuries, such as fractures or lacerations; palatal defects, such as oronasal fistula and cleft palate; and oral tumors.

Many patients with traumatic injuries are initially treated by the Emergency and Critical Care Service for initial stabilization, and are then transferred to the Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service for specific maxillofacial procedures. To diagnose their injuries, typically x-rays and/or CT scanning are performed.

The treatment approach and techniques differ with each case and depend on a variety of factors. The outcome and prognosis of most maxillofacial traumatic injuries is good.

Patients with oral tumors typically require an initial appointment where we conduct an examination and imaging scans to determine the exact nature of the tumor and any associated disease. After a precise diagnosis is made, many oral tumors can be removed surgically. Often times, the Oncology Service will recommend additional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation. The outcome and prognosis of patients with oral tumors varies, and depends on the exact nature of the tumor and stage of the disease.

Patients with palatal defects typically undergo definitive surgical repair after a planning session that may include CT imaging. Depending on the size and location of the defect, final correction may require a multi-stage approach. The outcome of palatal defect repair is usually good.