Keeping your dog happy and healthy sounds easy enough, right? You give him love, exercise, good food and make sure he gets his annual vaccinations, and you think he should be good to go. Unfortunately, there are various illnesses that dogs can develop even if they get the very best of care. One of these conditions is dental epulis. While dental epulis may not be life-threatening like some canine conditions, it can cause discomfort and should be treated.
What is Epulis in Dogs?
Epulis (epulides for plural) is a benign tumor or growth found in a dog’s mouth or between their teeth. Epulis is actually the most common benign tumors found in the mouth of a dog. They may be difficult to spot at first because they’re smooth, firm and similar in color to the dog’s gums.
Epulides are most often found in middle-aged dogs, and medium to large dogs are most commonly affected. The severity of this condition can range from mild to severe depending on the dog and how advanced it was when it was diagnosed.
The only way to remove these tumors is through dental surgery. Because these oral tumors are benign, they will not spread to other parts of the body. However, they may regrow even after being surgically removed and can become locally destructive/invasive. Epulides are typically found in the dog’s gum tissue that surrounds his or her teeth.
The tissue that connects the jawbone to the teeth is where the epulis usually originates. Once they’ve developed in the tissue, they can invade nearby tissue, which requires removing not just the tumor but also the surrounding tissue. In severe cases, it can even require removing part or all of the jawbone. Often, one epulis will spread and advance to several.
There are two types of epulis, and the specific treatment the dog needs depends on the type of oral tumor the dog develops.
Peripheral Odontogenic Fibroma
Also known as ossifying or fibromatous epulides, is the less serious of the two types. This type originates in the ligament that’s connected to the jawbone. It appears much like focal gingival hyperplasia and will not attack the underlying bone. This type is a firm and slow-growing tumor that is generally located right under the nose in the front section of the upper jaw.
Also known as just acanthomatous epulides, is a more aggressive tumor that can invade the underlying bone. It originates in the periodontal ligament that’s attached to the tooth in the jaw and is typically found on the front section of the lower jaw.
Diagnosis of Epulis
Although a dog will need a diagnosis from a vet before treatment can begin, owners may notice certain signs or symptoms that can indicate the dog has a epulis. These symptoms may include:
- Bleeding gums
- Unusually bad breath
- Swollen jaw
- Difficulty chewing
- Displaced teeth
- Increased drooling
- Reduced physical activity
- Tooth loss
- Weight loss
If you notice these symptoms, it will be beneficial to take the dog to a veterinarian. The vet will use several things to help diagnose your dog with the first being examining the dog’s mouth. If the dog is uncomfortable or stressed by this, the vet may administer a light sedative. If the vet does notice a mass, a biopsy will be performed to rule out cancer.
This will also determine not just if it’s an epulis but what type as well. The second step will probably be a dental x-ray to determine if there has been invasion in the lower or upper jawbone. This is generally followed up with a CT scan because that will provide the vet with information regarding the size and severity of the tumor.
The biopsy, dental x-rays and CT scan are all performed under general anesthesia. If a diagnosis of epulis is confirmed, surgery will be the next step.
The type of treatment depends on the size and number of tumors found. If there is only one tumor, or it’s very small, it can be removed quickly with very little chance of complications. If here are several tumors, or they have spread to several teeth, the surgery is more complex and may be performed by a certified veterinary surgeon. A CT scan will be required to plan the surgical treatment.
Although surgery is the preferred treatment for both types of epulides, peripheral adontogenic tumors can be removed with a superficial surgery. If there are acanthomatous ameloblastomas present, they require a more complex surgery because it will probably require removal of either the upper or lower jaw because the bones have probably been invaded.
Surprising as this may be, dogs generally do very well after this surgery. Depending on the size of the tumor, radiation may be used. In a few rare cases, chemotherapy is injected into the tumor to shrink its size. The teeth near the tumor will also need to be removed.
Post-operative care depends on the severity of the surgery and the dog. If the dog only had minor surgery, he or she may resume normal activities rather quickly. More serious surgeries may require dietary modifications, pain medication and antibiotics.
Unfortunately, there is no prevention for dog epulis. Providing the dog with good oral health and monitoring the dog’s teeth are probably one of the best preventative measures because you may be able to spot an issue while it’s still a small issue. Brushing the dog’s teeth regularly can also be beneficial. If there is one positive about this disease, it’s that it they are not contagious so they cannot be passed from one dog to another.