February Pet Dental Health Month is sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). It is the best time to take care of your pet’s dental health needs. Many veterinarians offer great discounts and include professional dental cleanings which are vital to maintain optimal dental health.

Pet dental cleanings are essentially just like human dental services.  It primarily involves ultrasonic and hand scaling removal of tarter and plague that if left untreated lead to gingivitis and devastating periodontal disease.  Caries or cavities are very common in humans because we eat a lot of sweets and candy.  Pets rarely get cavities, but gum disease such as gingivitis and periodontal disease are very common with a prevalence of 80-90% in dogs and cats that are three years of age and older.  This is because pets do not volunteer to brush their teeth and gums, and only about 2% of pet owners provide daily brushing for their pets.

Many veterinarians even offer dental radiology now.  The only significant difference between veterinary dentistry and human dentistry is that effective veterinary professional dental cleanings cannot be done without the use of anesthesia.  The concern regarding anesthesia set the stage for the emergence of “anesthesia-free” dentistry, however the quality of service is so poor that the AVMA declared “anesthesia free” dental scaling’s as a form of malpractice.  With the availability of improved anesthetic agents and the advancements of anesthetic monitoring equipment, the use of anesthesia is extremely safe and allows for highly effective dental care.

Dental health problems are extremely common, and many are very painful and can lead to serious systemic conditions. As in humans, an untreated dental infection can spread to the heart, kidneys and other organs, and even become life threatening. Practicing good dental hygiene at home in addition to as needed cleanings by your veterinarian is the most efficient and cost-effective way to extend your pet’s life, while keeping them comfortable and pain-free.

Preventing dental disease is the key because correcting dental health problems can be expensive. The obvious symptoms of established dental disease are repugnant or bad breath indicating periodontal disease has already started, frequent pawing or rubbing at the face and/or mouth, reluctance to eat hard foods, and red swollen gums and brownish teeth.  If you wait until your pet has obvious dental disease, the type of care needed then often involves oral surgery that is time consuming and much more costly.

Professional dental scalings performed as needed are very important, but so is consistent home dental care.  Veterinary dental specialists explain that daily brushing is the best home care, but there are many other effective additional or alternative options that include chew toys, treats and rawhides that pets adore, water rinses or additives, dental food powders, weekly sealants, and even dental foods.  There are many inexpensive and highly effective products available that can help keep your pet’s teeth and gums clean and healthy between professional cleanings.  But be sure to consult your veterinarian because there are many ineffective products with catchy marketing gimmicks.  An excellent resource for pet owners is a list of approved products provided by the Veterinary Oral Health Council which is available online at www.VOHC.org.

The AVMA also offers a video providing step-by-step instructions on how to brush your pet’s teeth and on periodontal disease. The AVMA website is featuring pet dental health that offers links to an informative podcast and other information resources.

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