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February 17, 2012 > February is Pet Dental Health Month

February is Pet Dental Health Month

Doesn't it always seem that the most friendly "up-close to your face and personal" pets are those with the worst breath! Does your pet have breath that could stop a freight train? We often hear from our friends, "My dog was just at the vet and had ten teeth pulled" or "My pet had a kidney infection because of his teeth." Unfortunately, many pet owners are realizing too late the importance of good oral health for their pets. Sometimes, despite their best intentions, they are sabotaging their pet's oral health.

Dogs are diagnosed with dental infection more than any other infection. Studies indicate that 85% of all dogs over one year of age have some degree of periodontal disease, but very few are treated (less than 3%). Veterinarians all across the country are frustrated and confused by this predicament. There is a huge need for proper dental care for pets across the country but very few pet owners seem to get it.

Perhaps the veterinary profession is partly to blame. For years, our forefathers didn't get it either. Due to our profession's agrarian roots, it would be absurd to "clean a pet's teeth." However, our profession has progressed at a tremendous rate from the dark ages of medicine. We know have seen the light and we realize that bad teeth lead to bad organs. Our goal is not necessarily to clean your pet's teeth for cosmetic reason, but as a means to cure periodontal disease. Majority of these pets are getting "deep cleanings" and periodontal therapy as our human dentist counterparts would call it. Your veterinarian is highly trained to handle periodontal disease and your pet's dental health care.

What causes periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease starts by accumulation of plaque - which is composed of bacteria, salivary proteins and food debris. Plaque builds up in the space between teeth and gums, causing irritation, redness, swelling, and pain. Eventually, pockets form and deepen and there is loss of attachment of the bone with the teeth resulting in loose and abscessed teeth. As any dentist will tell you, the mouth has a large blood supply. Once an entry way is created, bacteria and toxins can enter into the bloodstream and cause serious problems to the vital organs. The most susceptible organs are the ones with the highest blood flow: lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and even the brain. Due to their stoic natures, dogs and cats don't show pain when their teeth hurt. They just tough it out and deal with it. It is only when it is really bad, they show any symptoms. Perhaps the most painful of all things are dental and gum pain. A simple sore in your mouth or a cavity seem to hurt more than many other injuries or pains.

Pulling teeth vs. saving teeth
Many people just don't want to hear about their pet's teeth. A few get a blank stare when we mention the teeth as if it is insignificant. Others acknowledge that their pet's teeth are bad but don't want to do anything about them. Some are afraid of anesthesia and are afraid to put their pet under sedation for a proper professional cleaning. These fears often cause the inevitable - loss of teeth, pain, and infection in the organs. It is a frequent dilemma in senior pets that have a "sewer mouth" causing kidney infections or heart infections. At this point it is very difficult to sedate a patient that has major underlying problems and extract any abscessed teeth that may be present.

What can you do at home?
There are various means of home care. The most important are active means such as tooth brushing. More passive means are by using oral rinses, dental chews, dental diets and other dental treats. To gain maximum benefit, the teeth should be brushed a minimum of two times a week for 50% reduction in plaque. "I have his teeth cleaned at the groomer," is what we often hear. Having your pet's teeth brushed once a month at the groomer is not doing much. In-fact, it may be causing you a false sense of hope that you are actually doing something. It may not be possible for everyone to brush their pet's teeth so it is always best to start when they are little puppies and kittens.

Professional dental care
To correct the gingivitis that is present it is important to gently clean under the gum line. This can only be accomplished thoroughly and gently if your pet is under sedation. Sedation will make it impossible for your pet to experience any anxiety from having instruments placed in its mouth, or discomfort when the tartar is actually removed. It is impossible and unethical to properly clean the pet's teeth and gingival without sedation. Many of these so called "anesthesia-free teeth cleanings" are doing a disservice to pet owners as they do not really clean the gum line, which is where the battle is. They are only cosmetic in nature and mainly clean the surface of the tooth.

Please consult your veterinarian and have them show you the condition and stage of your pet's teeth on every visit and become proactive in regular dental care. Regular care over time is better than excessive or infrequent care and will result in a longer, happier life for your loved companion.

Dr Raj Salwan is a second generation Veterinarian and has been around Veterinary Medicine for over 25 years. His interests include Internal Medicine, Surgery, Emergency/Acute Care, and general small animal practice. He currently works at American Animal Care in Fremont and can be reached via email at or

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