Gingival hyperplasia is one of those conditions that fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. [Grody photo link: bleeeccchh.] Imagine abnormal gum growth that in some cases actually covers a dog's teeth. And if you think it looks bad, think what it does to a dog's breath — specifically to my dog's breath, the breath of the world's cutest and friendliest, the breath of the dog that sleeps on my bed, ay caramba.
Everyone tells me that gingival hyperplasia is most common in boxers, but any dog can develop the condition. Certain drugs can trigger it as well: more info here and here.
So my good girl had a gingivectomy last month. "During a gingivectomy ["deep pockets," heh], hyperplastic or excess gingiva is removed," which means that a specialist with mad skillz in veterinary dentistry cuts away lots and lots and lots of weird-looking tumor-ish gum tissue. Benign tumor-ish tissue in this case, thank heavens. The doctor [Eric Van Nice, who specializes in advanced veterinary dental care at Animal Dental Services in Tustin, CA — that's Dr. Van Nice in the photo] was totally ossum and Bounce has beautiful teeth and minty-fresh breath now.
Why did you wait so long to get this done, you may ask.
Short answer: because once removed, in most cases the abnormal tissue grows right back.
My vets have told me for years that if the excess gum tissue doesn't seem to be bothering the dog, I should leave it alone.
But her breath got worse and worse. Remember, I sleep with this little animal. ["Pit bull kills owner — with its breath!"] During a recent appointment, my vet raised an index finger in the air like a frontiersman checking wind direction, and announced, "What I said before about this? I take it back — your dog needs to see a specialist."
Note to self: in future, see specialists earlier rather than later. "You dodged a bullet," said Dr. Van Nice. Excess gum tissue traps bacteria and causes tooth decay along with the noxious smell, duh. It's something of a miracle that none of my girl's teeth were rotten.
The procedure itself was over in the time it took my cousin and me to spend more money than we should have, all things considered, at a local Ikea. I dropped Bounce off at 8:00 and picked her up just after 12:00. She was very drowsy for the rest of the afternoon. She was on antibiotics for five days and needed soft food for a week, and now [after nearly two weeks] her mouth looks terrific and she feels shiny and new.
The doctor explained that in some cases, when the condition is caught early enough, it's possible to eliminate it completely. Generally, however, the excess tissue will grow back and dogs will need repeated care. In Bounce's case, subsequent gingivectomies - if needed - will be a lot less work than the first one.
And you should have seen the drawer of dangerous toys the doctor shared with us! "Plastibones," "WussieSticks" [you know the chew toys I'm talking about], rawhide items hard enough to shatter a car window... the doctor is perfectly willing to repair the damage, but he would rather your dog avoid those tooth-ruining toys in the first place. Kongs, though - Kongs are excellent. Kongs are your friend.
In the scan below: Dr. Van Nice, UC Davis grad, Fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry and Diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College, works on a really big cat.