February is Dental Health Month

I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of messages about how important it is to brush your dog’s teeth and schedule regular cleanings. This month, I’d like to share the story of a friend, whose dog recently had a pretty scary dental related experience.

Have you ever seen your dog’s jaw chatter? It might have happened for a split second when he was super excited for you to throw the ball, or maybe you’ve seen it and brushed it off as just a weird thing he does sometimes but didn’t think it was anything serious. I’m sharing this personal story in hope that it will help someone out there who is reading everything they can find on the internet about dog jaw chattering.

I’ve raised my little girl on home prepared and raw food. When she was younger, I gave her raw meaty bones and believed that was the best thing I could do for her dental health. Unfortunately, she broke a couple teeth chewing on the bones and had to have two root canals.

After the root canals, she could no longer have hard bones or traditional dental bones because the teeth are a lot more fragile after they’ve had work done. Since then, I’ve brushed her teeth twice a day, every day for years.

Because my little one is older now and I like to stay as holistic as possible, I didn’t want my girl to go under general anesthesia. I had her teeth professionally cleaned one time after the root canals, which was three years ago. We go to the vet regularly, I brush her teeth daily without fail and she eats a pretty amazing diet.

Then one day, about a month ago, her jaw suddenly started chattering.

There are many things that could cause jaw chattering. It could be that he’s just really excited or nervous about something or it could result from him getting into something toxic, oral eosinophilic plaque like Turk has in this video. It could also be neurological or dental related. Since our dogs can’t tell us exactly what’s going on, it’s up to us to find out a root cause by starting the process of elimination.

Before the jaw chattering started, my girl started to bite me during our tooth brushing sessions, but I just thought it was her strong personality. Then one day she bit me really, really hard. I worried something was wrong with her teeth or her jaw, but then she seemed fine. She was eating and drinking normally and didn’t have bad breath. I just thought I had to desensitize on the tooth brushing and find a new routine for us. I even consulted with a trainer with a PhD in animal behavior to get some tips.

We visited with the vet as soon as possible and discussed if it could be an allergic reaction, dental pain or neurological. He examined her and watched videos I provided and said  “let’s keep an eye on it for a few weeks and see if it goes away. He didn’t think it was dental related since he knows how good I’ve always been about brushing and she didn’t have any tartar or gingivitis that he could see and she didn’t have any bad odor coming from her mouth.

Two weeks passed and the jaw tremors (as I was calling them at the time) were still there. They’d even happen when she was sleeping. I was worried they might be focal motor seizures, arthritis in her TMJ or a pinched nerve in her neck. I was so scared and I read all I could find on the subject and kept a log of every time the jaw chatter took place, which was several times daily. I took video after video in all types of scenarios, eating, sleeping, barking, yawning. I was determined to understand the root cause so I could fix it. Just accepting something as general aging, is not acceptable in my book.

As the days went by, the chattering seemed to diminish a little, but was still present and other neurological and pain symptoms were showing up, which confused me even more.

I ordered an allergy test to see a food sensitivity was the root cause. I had recently re-introduced grains to her diet, so I was worried perhaps that was the problem, but taking the grains away didn’t change anything.

We went to see our holistic vet who thought it was maybe her TMJ and then we went to a third vet for another opinion and that vet thought it was back pain related. We went to laser therapy, but right there in the therapy room, just after the session had completed, I gave her a soft treat and her jaw chattered.

Finally, we got into see a Canine Dental Specialist at a specialty hospital. She was the fourth vet we saw about this. She looked inside my little one’s mouth and didn’t see anything obvious, but said it was possible the jaw chattering was from dental pain. It wasn’t a common response, but she said it was possible. We had to wait a week to get in for x-rays to see if there was any evidence of periodontal disease and get treatment.

The morning of her dental procedure I dropped her off at the specialty hospital and waited in the car in the parking lot across the street. The dentist called me as soon as she had the radiographs and told me there was a tooth at the very back of my dog’s mouth that had pretty advanced periodontal disease. She removed the tooth and a few hours later, my little one was ready to go home.

I was told that even under general anesthesia, my little girl’s jaw chattered when they touched the infected tooth. She had bone loss from the periodontal disease and the tooth was very loose and was hitting a nerve. We don’t know for sure if this was the cause of the problem, but so far, we haven’t seen the chattering again, so all things are pointing to dental pain.

So even if you brush your dog’s teeth every single day, twice a day, even on vacation, and never ever miss, and your dog’s breath smells fresh and teeth appear to be clean and beautiful, your dog could still have periodontal disease. It’s a nasty thing because our dog’s mouths open to their bodies and with periodontal disease, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and affect vital organs. We can’t see what is going on below the gum line and it’s super hard to see those very back teeth. I pushed to find out the root cause of the jaw chattering. It would have been very easy to just write it off as an aging tick.

Looking back at it now, it seems obvious that a dental issue was the cause, but it really wasn’t all that obvious at all. Our dentist even consulted with a canine neurologist on the topic. I feel terrible that it took as long as it did to get to the root cause, but I’m so grateful that we finally got there. Today my little girl is doing great and her jaw chattering and pain have gone away.

I hope our story inspires you to schedule a professional cleaning for your dog. February is Dental Health Month, which is a month to bring awareness to the importance of not only your dog’s regular tooth brushing, but also x-rays and professional cleanings for your dog’s mouth. Healthy smiles are happy smiles!!

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