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The Pet Corner: Pets need good dental hygiene

The American Veterinary Medical Association has established February as National Pet Dental Awareness Month each year to emphasize an area of pet care that is often overlooked by pet owners.

Most pet owners are unaware of their pet’s dental problems because most pets show few signs of dental disease.

Proper dental care makes a world of difference to your pet’s overall health.

With pets, clean teeth means their breath doesn’t smell bad and leads to better health.

Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats. More than 68 percent of all pets 3 and older have some form of periodontal or dental disease.

Often your pet’s bad breath is the only obvious symptom of dental disease. Most every pet owner has experienced their dog or cat breathing that horrible stench directly into their face. The bad breath comes from tartar buildup which contains a lot of bacteria.

Periodontal disease is inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth.

Tartar accumulates on the teeth contributing to gum recession around the base of the tooth. Gum recession leads to unprotected tooth surfaces and then infection.

If the infection goes untreated, tooth loss is likely.

The thin, invisible film buildup of bacteria on teeth is called plaque. If the plaque thickens, it becomes mineralized and hard, which is visible tartar. The tartar irritates the gums causing inflammation and infection called gingivitis.

The oral infection can lead to other infections in the body.

Tonsillitis is one common type of secondary infection cause by bad teeth.

The bacteria causing the oral infection can also get into the blood stream leading to liver, kidney and even heart valve infections known as endocarditis.

Once your pet develops tartar on their teeth, it will be necessary to have it removed by professional scaling and polishing under anesthesia.

Most of the time, antibiotics are necessary after the dental cleaning to combat the bacteria responsible for the gingivitis. Tooth scaling is performed with ultrasonic cleaning equipment to remove the tartar above and below the gum line. The tartar beneath the gum line causes the most significant gum recession.

The teeth are then polished to help prevent further plaque buildup.

Sometimes, additional procedures such as extracting a tooth need to be performed at the same time. It is impossible to determine the full extent of dental disease until the pet is under anesthesia.

It is imperative to establish a home dental care program for your pet.

Brushing your dog’s teeth is the best preventative measure. Not all dogs will allow their owners to do this unless you get them used to it at an early age. It is recommended to brush your pet’s teeth daily.

Feeding dry food and crunchy treats helps scrape the plaque off their teeth as they are chewing. Prescription treats are available that have plaque-fighting medicine in them making prevention much easier. Several special pet mouth rinses can be used to help prevent plaque.

Your veterinarian should advise you on the health of your pet’s teeth. So, why not let National Pet Dental Awareness be a reminder to have your pet’s teeth examined.

If you have any concerns about your pet’s dental health, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to help ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.

Dr. Jeff Castle is a veterinarian at Clark County Veterinary Clinic.