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Dental Health Month Reminds Owners
to Protect Pets’ Oral Health

If you find yourself gasping for air every time you get a whiff of your pet’s breath, it’s probably time to reevaluate its dental care.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month, an annual effort to raise awareness of the importance of oral health care for pets.

 “Virtually every adult dog and cat we see has some dental disease,” said Richard Meadows, DVM, MU College of Veterinary Medicine Curator's Distinguished Teaching Professor and the director of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital’s Community Practice Section.

Dental disease affects as many as 91 percent of dogs and 85 percent of cats over the age of 3, according to a 2013 Banfield Pet Hospital report that analyzed data from 2.2 million dogs and 460,000 cats.

The most common clinical condition in dogs and cats is periodontal disease, in which bacteria spread beneath the gum line and damage supporting tissues around the teeth, potentially leading to a loss of teeth.

Despite the frequent occurrence of dental disease, it often goes untreated.

“The vast majority of pets we see with even whopping dental disease, the owners do not realize,” Meadows said.

That’s because pets often show no signs of dental problems even though they may be experiencing chronic pain. However, when these dental issues are finally treated and the pain is alleviated, owners will often tell Meadows “It’s like you took years off my dog,” he said.

Failing to address dental problems in a timely manner can cause needless suffering and expense, Meadows said. According to an analysis conducted by VPI Pet Insurance, the average cost in 2012 to prevent pets’ dental disease, such as through a professional teeth cleaning, was $171.82, compared to $531.71 to treat dental disease.

Meadows said veterinary dentistry has become very sophisticated.

“We can pretty much do anything human dentistry can do,” he said.

To protect pets’ oral health, Meadows offered the following tips:

Watch for symptoms of dental disease. Although pets frequently show no symptoms, Meadows said signs of dental problems can include not chewing on food or chew toys, chewing on only one side of the mouth, excessive drooling and bad breath. Pets shouldn’t have bad breath, Meadows said. If their breath stinks, anaerobic bacteria could be growing underneath the gum surface.

Brush their teeth. “There is no substitute for brushing teeth,” Meadows said. “It is the gold standard.” Ideally, owners should brush pets’ teeth daily, he said, but at minimum they should brush them at least every 48 hours. That’s because after 48 to 72 hours plaque turns into calculus, which cannot be brushed off teeth. Dogs and cats produce calculus five times as fast as humans, he said. For more information on how to brush pets’ teeth, the American Veterinary Medical Association offers a video with step-by-step instructions.

Have your pet’s teeth cleaned regularly by your veterinarian. If you’re not brushing their teeth, pets generally need annual cleanings, Meadows said. However, that can be prolonged to two to three years with good home care. He said when owners are surprised that pets need cleanings so frequently, he often asks them, “What would happen to you if you didn’t brush your teeth?”

Consider products designed to help prevent dental disease. Examples include food, water additives and chew toys. However, Meadows warned, claims for these products aren’t regulated. He suggested asking your veterinarian for advice or checking the product on the Veterinary Oral Health Council website, http://vohc.org. Products listed on the site have been independently tested to verify their claims. When purchasing chew toys, owners should test them for safety, Meadows said. Unless you can dent the toy with your thumbnail or bend it between your hands, a product is too hard and could break teeth, he said.

Although Meadows appreciates the recognition oral care receives during National Pet Dental Health Month, he said it should be a year-round endeavor.

“In my opinion every month should be dental awareness month,” he said.

 

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Last Update: February 18, 2014