Keepin’ Pets Clean

Local Veterinarian Discusses Importance Of Animal Dental Health

Posted: February 7, 2014

Vet technician Amanda Dulgarov polishes Max’s teeth Jan. 31 at Heartland. The recently-rescued Brussels Griffon was sedated during the procedure. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Dr. Heather Beach removes stains from Max at a Jan. 31 appointment, during which the Brussels Griffon was under anesthesia. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Dr. Heather Beach of Heartland Veterinary Clinic P.C. checks digital tooth images Jan. 31 during an appointment with Max, a Brussels Griffon. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)

Dr. Heather Beach peered into the tiny mouth of Max, a 1-year-old Brussels Griffon mix, on the prowl for anything immediately or potentially unhealthy.

“Those, we have to go in there and get,” she said, pointing at a broken tooth in Max’s smile, one of the reasons she decided to put the recently-rescued dog under anesthetic for a dental exam to begin with.

She quickly found a craftier culprit, however: an unerupted tooth that appeared, without the help of the X-ray in front of her, to just be missing.

“If we didn’t have X-ray, we wouldn’t know it was there,” she explained.

In January 2013, Heartland Veterinary Clinic P.C. invested in a dental X-ray machine.

“We have been discovering a massive amount of disease that, as doctors, we can’t see on the surface,” Beach said.

Facts Of The Matter
Dental disease among dogs and cats is serious and prevalent.

About 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats develop some kind of oral disease by age 3, Beach said.

“That means either disease that homecare can be taught to take care of all the way up to dogs who need major, major work done,” she explained.

The smaller the breed, the more likely a dog is to develop tooth problems earlier, she said.

“A lot of toy breeds, homecare is something that really helps those guys out,” she said. “Most of that is just genetics.”

According to pamphlets available at the clinic, gum disease, which results from buildup of plaque on the teeth around the gums, is the most common disease is pet dogs and cats.

Calculus, which is hard dental tartar made up of salts from saliva collecting on plaque, begins to form after only days of not cleaning a tooth.  

It’s often hard to tell if a pet has dental problems, because although they can certainly feel the pain, they don’t necessarily show it, Beach said.

“Their nerve systems are pretty much the same as ours, as far as the pain they’re feeling,” she said. “Just most pets are geared not to show that.”  

You might notice them avoiding chewing on one side. If you look at a pet’s teeth and notice dark brown buildup, “that is probably not going to be able to be brushed off,” she said, adding that people might also notice a bad odor to the mouth, which could indicate an infection. Broken teeth definitely need to be checked out, she added.

Bacteria from untreated oral infections can spread to other organs, such as the heart, kidney and liver.

“The whole body system can be at risk from that bacteria,” Beach said.

Beach recommends that dog and cat owners brush their pets’ teeth daily.

“That is the number one way that they can help prevent dental disease is to actually do physical brushing,” she said, adding that pet owners should avoid using human toothpaste on their furry kids, which isn’t a requirement for good pet tooth cleaning.

But she realizes that brushing daily poses a problem for some.

“There’s lots of other things that people can do if their dog or cat doesn’t let them brush,” she said, listing Greenies dental chews and Maxi/Guard Oral Cleansing Gel among those options.

She encourages people to look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval.

About half of the time, she recommends that people seek a professional cleaning and examination for their pets.

The procedure can last anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the severity of the dental problems, she said. It typically costs between $500 and $900 per pet, she added.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or csipos@dnronline.

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