Monday, February 11, 2008

Pet Talk: Say AAAARF! February is National Veterinary Dental Health Month

We all know the importance of healthy dental habits for ourselves and our families, but what about dental health for our pets? How many whitening strips, mouth washes, pulsating toothbrushes and boxes of dental floss do you have in your medicine cabinet? Many pet owners overlook the value of such healthcare in their furry friends, leaving them susceptible to numerous health problems that could be easily prevented. February is National Veterinary Dental Health Month - a perfect time to take a closer look at the implications of neglecting proper dental care in your pet.

Proper dental health can solve much more than bad breath. The Academy of Veterinary Dentistry was established in 1987 and has dedicated their efforts to education on proper veterinary dental care. Many health problems can be prevented through simple dental care practices by veterinarians, but more immediately, by pet-owners.

The mouth is the gateway to health. If problems arise in the mouth, they can possibly be transferred via the circulatory system to cause more serious problems in vital organs. According to Dr. J.R. “Bert” Dodd, clinical associate professor and veterinary dentist at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, the mouth can be a source of infection in joints, lungs, the heart and liver. Bacteria are released into the bloodstream every time a pet chews or plays with toys.

“Dental disease can contribute to generalized systemic disease in veterinary patients - it’s not merely a localized or cosmetic problem,” says Dodd. “In fact, dental disease is the No. 1 disease entity affecting adult pets.”

In a study done by the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats develop some degree of periodontal disease by three years of age. This may include gingivitis, periodontal infections, malocclusions, fractured teeth, oral tumors or painful cavity-like lesions. Dr. Dodd explains that periodontal disease is a disease of neglect and that almost 95% of the cases he sees at the Texas A&M University Small Animal Hospital are cases of periodontal disease.

Semi-annual exams, an annual professional cleaning, appropriate use of chew toys, water additives and treats are all vital parts of a healthy dental regimen. For those pets already experiencing periodontal disease, a cleaning every 4-6 months is necessary. Dr. Dodd also explained that pets can easily be trained to have their teeth brushed by their owners and this activity should be a part of an animal’s overall healthcare program.

Pet owners should work closely with their veterinarians to ensure that pets are receiving appropriate dental care. It is imperative that pet owners know what “normal” is. This allows owners to more easily identify when problems arise.

When inspecting their pet’s teeth and mouths, owners should look for broken teeth, bad breath, loose or discolored teeth, tarter/calculus build-up, pawing of the face, jaw quiver, dropping of food during mastication, avoidance of feed though desired and any change in preference for foodstuffs. A hands-on approach by pet owners is vital in preventing periodontal disease and other, more serious complications.

As human healthcare and dentistry has improved through further research and advancements in technology, so has veterinary dentistry. But just like human dental care, the simplest and most effective treatment is still prevention. So show your pet some love this February and make sure that you are educated on proper care of your pet’s pearly-whites, it could save his life.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Suggestions for future topics may be sent to

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