February is National Pet Dental Health Month. The purpose of Pet Dental Health Month is to raise the awareness that pets need dental care. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that more than 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have oral disease by the time they are 3 years old.
Not only is oral disease extremely common, but if left untreated it can dramatically affect overall health. This is because bacteria thrive in the plaque and tartar that build up along the teeth and below the gums, causing gingivitis. As the gingivitis progresses, bacteria invade the ligaments, soft tissues, and bones that anchor the teeth in place, causing periodontal disease, a painful inflammation that leads to gum recession, bone infection, loosening of teeth, and ultimately leads to tooth loss. Once gingivitis or periodontitis develops, bacteria are able to spread through the bloodstream and infect other internal organs. Thus, periodontal disease can be a source of repeated or recurrent infections in the liver, pancreas, heart valves, kidneys, and urinary tract.
The initial sign of the periodontal disease is often bad breath. Unfortunately, many people mistake the odor of dental disease with “doggie breath” and believe that it is part of normal aging. Dental disease can be prevented through daily home care (including regular tooth brushing and the use of appropriate diets designed to minimize the accumulation of plaque and tartar) and regular veterinary visits for dental examinations and complete cleaning and polishing. Don’t be fooled by advertisements or testimonials that suggest that water additives, oral sprays, dental gels, or tartar diets will be all you need to keep your pet’s teeth clean. These products may help, but they are no substitute for regular brushing. And just as we require regular professional dental cleanings to keep our teeth healthy, so too do our dogs and cats. The biggest difference is that our pets will not submit to sitting quietly in the dentist’s chair for an hour while somebody scrapes and polishes their teeth. And don’t be fooled by advertisements for
Dental disease is perhaps one of the most under-recognized serious health risks for our pets, in part because it is a ‘silent’ disease. Animals cannot tell us if their teeth hurt. Therefore, it is up to you to “flip the lip” and look at your pet’s teeth often, brush those teeth, and visit your veterinarian at least once per year so that he or she can look for evidence of gingivitis and/or periodontitis and recommend the appropriate treatment to keep your pet’s pearly whites looking good for life. Although February is National Pet Dental Health Month, you should remember that your pets deserve dental care every month of the year.
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