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February is Veterinary Dental Health Month!

Our good friend, Dr. Beth Ruby is writing this week's blog on Dental Health Month. We have asked her to write this article because this is an important subject in the health of our pets, but it’s also something that we don’t perform here at Holland’s Veterinary Referral Hospital since Dr. Holland sees pets only for their referred condition. Please contact your primary veterinarian if it is time for your dog or cat to have a dental, or for any concerns regarding your pet’s oral health.

Did you know that 80% of dogs and cats, over the age of 5, have some form of dental disease? Imagine if you didn’t brush your teeth for weeks or months! Our pets do not have the ability to work a tooth brush and depend on us, as their owners and health care providers, to ensure they maintain good dental health. While using a daily form of plaque prevention (brushing, oral wipes, dental chews, oral rinses) is best, using a plaque preventing or removing product even twice a week can make a difference in your pet’s oral health. Even with regular home care, a dental cleaning for you pet is recommended every 6 to 12 months (depending on the degree of dental issues present).

The mouth is home to many forms of bacteria. Those bacteria can bind together and form a matrix on the surface of the tooth. Over time, that matrix becomes tartar and as the tartar accumulates it becomes calculus. This calculus provides a protective barrier to the bacteria underneath allowing them to cause further disease and damage. When we look in our pet’s mouths, we are only able to see the crown of the tooth. This makes up only 40% of the entire tooth. The remaining 60% is under the gum line making it difficult to know the true degree of dental problems that may be occurring. Dogs and cats require general anesthesia to allow a thorough exam and cleaning to ensure that the 60% of the tooth we cannot see is properly cared for.

Dental disease that is left untreated can lead to bone loss and possible fractures of the jaw, loose and painful teeth, loss of teeth, and inflamed and painful gums. Because of the large amount of bacteria present in the mouth, those bacteria can spread to other parts of the body causing infections in areas such as the lymph nodes, liver, kidneys, prostate or heart. Studies have shown that animals who have good oral health live on average 10-20% longer than those that don’t.

Signs to watch for that can be an indicator that your pet is suffering from dental disease are: bad breath, red inflamed gums, loose teeth, difficulty chewing, turning or tilting their head to chew, dropping food from their mouth, hesitancy to accept food, or changes in their eating habits. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, a consultation with your veterinarian is best for your pet. You veterinarian can help make recommendations on how to best treat your pet for dental issues as well as ways to maintain good oral health at home.

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