Here at Bristol County Veterinary Hospital, we take dental care very seriously. Of course, that goes beyond just cleanings.

As time goes on, the importance of dental health is being realized more and more in human medicine and as well, in the world of veterinary medicine. Going back to looking at the body as a whole, it only makes sense that if beloved furry family members have infected teeth, gum disease, or other oral problems or infections, the potential for those infections to create issues in other parts of the body (such as the heart, the kidneys, etc.) is there. Other things besides infection can go on in the mouth as well such as oral tumors, foreign bodies, misalignment of the teeth or extra teeth.

For this reason, we at Bristol County Veterinary Hospital believe in providing top of the line dental care to our clients. The mouth and the teeth will always be looked at in our wellness and diagnostic exams but if something is seen, a dental, or further dental imaging may be suggested.

If you’ve ever noticed a piece of pet food fly across the room when your pet sneezed, she may have an oronasal fistula, a dental health issue that can cause significant discomfort and lead to additional health problems if not corrected. Here are four facts you should know about oronasal fistulas in pets.

#1: An oronasal fistula is a hole connecting the mouth and nose.

When a pet develops an oronasal fistula, food, water, and saliva can travel from the mouth to the nose, which can irritate the respiratory tract and cause the pet pain and discomfort. Chronic infection can occur, and the pet may avoid eating and drinking because of the associated pain. Pets with oronasal fistulas may exhibit:

  • Excessive sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing out food
  • Inflammation and chronic infections of the respiratory tract

#2: Dental disease is the most common cause of oronasal fistulas in pets.

Most pets develop some degree of periodontal disease by the age of 3. The most common cause of oronasal fistulas, severe dental disease, causes the bone surrounding a pet’s teeth to become weak, and gaps can form between the mouth and the respiratory tract. These gaps are prime areas for bacteria to accumulate and infection to occur, and extraction of the affected tooth or teeth is usually required. After extraction, if so much bone has been lost that the channel between the mouth and the nasal passages is exposed, an oronasal fistula can result.

Oronasal fistulas can also be caused by trauma, cancer, or cleft palate.

#3: Surgery is required to repair an oronasal fistula.

The sooner an oronasal fistula is treated, the better the prognosis, because chronic fistulas are difficult to repair and often never fully heal on their own. To repair an oronasal fistula, surgery under general anesthesia is required. After evaluating the fistula’s depth and cleaning out any debris or bacteria, we search for healthy gum tissue to suture over the fistula to close it, which can be challenging if the pet’s mouth is severely diseased.

For two to three weeks following the surgery, the pet should be prevented from chewing on anything hard, including dry food.

#4: Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent oronasal fistulas in pets.

To prevent bone loss and infection that can weaken periodontal support structures and lead to oronasal fistulas, good oral hygiene is necessary. Brush your pet’s teeth regularly, provide dental chews, and schedule routine dental exams and professional cleanings to keep your pet’s oral health in tip-top shape.

If you have any further questions or fear that your pet may be suffering from this, please do not hesitate to contact us immediately.