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Young animals are not immune to oral problems.
While they can have some of the same issues as adults can, not only do those issues require special consideration, given their age; but there are also oral problems unique to growing animals.
Malocclusion (misalignment of teeth) can develop in a young animal due to either a problem with the jaws (skeletal malocclusion) or the positioning of the teeth in otherwise-normal jaws (dental malocclusion). The left and right mandibles and left and right maxillas in a young animal each grow independently, but usually in synchrony. When this growth is not synchronized, skeletal malocclusion can develop. A puppy or kitten whose jaws do not grow appropriately may have malocclusion such that sharp teeth are puncturing the delicate soft tissues of the mouth instead of interlocking normally. This condition requires urgent treatment due to the degree of pain and dysfunction it can cause. In addition, abnormal positioning of teeth can cause problems with the growth of jaws. The appropriate treatment alleviates the pain and restores comfortable occlusion, as well as allows the jaws to continue to develop. Even if an animal’s malocclusion doesn’t cause a painful traumatic wound, it can set up conditions that predispose it to recurrent oral disease, such as periodontitis.
Deciduous (“baby”) teeth are sharp and delicate. Since puppies and kittens are often too busy learning about their world to be careful with their teeth, it’s not uncommon for them to fracture. While these teeth don’t look like much, they are deceptive: their roots are long and reach deep into the periodontal tissues. These fractures are always painful, and usually expose the pulp canal, which means that oral bacteria (and everything else that goes into the puppy or kitten’s mouth) can travel down the pulp canal into the periodontal tissues causing infection and chronic pain. This periodontal infection can also interfere with the permanent tooth developing nearby.
The fragile immature teeth of young adult dogs and cats have thin walls and are prone to fracture, leaving the sensitive pulp exposed. Exposed pulp is painful, and over time, the tooth loses its nerve and blood supply, and the open root canal can allow oral bacteria to travel into the soft tissue at the tip of the root, causing an abscess. Prompt treatment (within 48 hours of the fracture occurring) is intended to control pain, prevent abscess formation, and maintain the viability of the tooth, allowing the tooth to continue normal development.
Cats can develop a condition called feline chronic gingivostomatitis. This is a very painful inflammation of the back part of the mouth that also contributes to periodontitis. Unfortunately, we do not yet fully understand the causes of this condition. While this usually manifests in adults, there is a population of young cats who also develop this condition. Treatment in young cats is similar to that in adults, but their young age affects management decisions.