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February is Pet Dental Health Month

Posted Friday, January 25, 2013, at 1:03 PM

Of all dogs 2 years old or more, 80% have some form of dental disease, and veterinarians say that periodontal disease is the number one diagnosed condition in pets today.

When one of my client's two dogs fought over a bone one day, she had to rush her eldest pet, 14-year-old cocker spaniel "Toby" to the hospital. She knew that Toby would have to have a few stitches for the bite wounds on his face, but she was shocked when I was more concerned about the severity of Toby's dental disease.

I was much more worried about the infection in Toby's mouth. One of his big canine teeth had been knocked out in the fight and if we didn't do gum surgery to repair the hole, he would always have severe sinus infections. Because Toby's gum disease was so advanced, I was worried about the chances of the surgery healing. My client never knew that dental care was that important.

Dental care of dogs and cats is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of pet health care. Approximately 80% of all dogs and cats have periodontal disease by the time they are only two years old. Dental disease affects much more than fresh breath. It frequently leads to more serious health problems such as liver, kidney and heart disease. That's why we are taking new steps to prevent it. A major step in this process is encouraging owners to participate in their pet's oral health at home.

Periodontal disease in pets is the same as it is in people. It's a sneaky and insidious process that begins when bacteria in the mouth attach to the teeth and produce a film called "plaque". When the bacteria die, they are calcified into "calculus" commonly known as tartar which makes a rough surface for even more bacteria to stick to. In the beginning, plaque is soft and can easily be removed by brushing or chewing on appropriate toys or treats. But if left to spread, plaque leads to gum inflammation (called "gingivitis") and infection. Eventually, the infection spreads to the tooth root and even the jaw bone itself -- causing pain and tooth loss.

Veterinarians are encouraged to teach owners the importance of good oral hygiene when puppies and kittens are only a few months old in order to begin a lifetime of healthy benefits that go far beyond sweet smelling kisses.

Unfortunately, good oral health care hasn't been an important part of the veterinary school curriculum until recent years. Many veterinarians simply were not taught the serious health consequences of untreated dental disease. But research proves that unchecked dental disease can be the root of other problems.

My client was fortunate that I had a special interest in veterinary dentistry, and had learned new dental procedures at a recent conference. "Toby had x-rays of his mouth and we found out that he actually had several abscessed teeth which needed to be removed. Toby's owner had noticed that he had been eating more slowly for several months and thought it was just a part of old age. He was probably in pain every time he ate."

Dental experts strongly recommend daily dental care for pets and twice yearly mouth exams beginning when puppies and kittens are two months old.

Veterinary supply companies have developed products that will help pet busy owners put some bite into home dental care for their pets.

My client has learned how to easily clean Toby's mouth on a regular basis in order to keep him healthy and to prevent his mouth from getting infected again. "It's not that expensive, it's easy to do, and Toby likes the attention. And he gets special treats that actually help clean his teeth as well."

It's important for all pet owners to know that pets can lead longer and healthier lives with good dental care. In fact, studies show that proper dental care can extend a pet's life by as much as five years! Ask your veterinarian about good dental care for your special furry friend. For more information on veterinary dentistry, visit www.oravet.com. Or www.MyVNN.com for video information.

If you need information on dental care contact Dr. Norette L Underwood of Trumann Animal Clinic at catdoc56@pcsii.com

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