ASK THE VETS: Dental health affects strokes, pregnancy and lifespan | guilt-ridden

BY DR. MICHAEL J. WATTS

FEBRUARY is National Pet Dental Health Month. For more than three decades, veterinarians nationwide have used this month as yet another opportunity to educate pet owners about the importance of dental health.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3. Is your pet one of them?

To find out, lift your pet’s lip and look at its teeth and gums. If the teeth are perfectly white, the gums are an even pale pink, and the breath is fresh, your pet probably has good oral health. If not, you should ask your vet if it’s time for a cleanup.

Dental calculus is a yellow or brown mineralized material that accumulates on the teeth. The mineral matrix traps harmful bacteria. Over time, these bacteria begin to cause inflammation along the gums and the ligaments that connect them to the teeth. This inflammation is known as periodontitis. It most often appears as a dark pink or red patch between the teeth, a red line along the gums, or bleeding gums.

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Many animals suffer from this common disease. While most owners don’t consider periodontitis a serious problem, veterinarians know the sad truth.

The United States Surgeon General’s Oral Health Report states, “Studies have demonstrated an association between periodontal disease and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

In veterinary patients, we also see links between periodontal disease and kidney and liver damage. In dogs and cats with inflamed gums, rains of bacteria frequently spurt into the blood. The average patient will have a positive blood culture every 10 days. These bacterial showers have been definitely linked to a reduced lifespan. Regular dental care can add two to five years to your pet’s life!

In clinical practice, I see pets without regular dental care getting “old” at a much younger age than other pets. The owners convince themselves that their 12-year-old cat’s kidney failure is just a product of age or nature. In fact, many of these animals could have lived longer and happier lives with regular dental care.

To quote the United States Surgeon General again, “Oral health is linked to well-being and quality of life…Oral and craniofacial diseases and conditions contribute to compromised ability to bite, chew and swallowing food; limitations in food selection; and poor nutrition… Orofacial pain, both as a symptom of untreated dental and oral problems and as a condition in itself, is a major source of diminished quality of life.

Yes, toothaches really hurt. Even for your pet. Of course, animals are programmed by nature to hide pain until it becomes extreme. We know that their nervous system feels the same pain signals as ours. We also know that dental pain is one of the most intense and significant types of pain that can be experienced. Be nice to your pet and take care of their teeth!

Part of your pet’s six-month wellness visit should include a thorough oral exam. At the first sign of gum inflammation or other oral disease, you should schedule a dental cleaning. Using light anesthesia, your veterinarian or licensed veterinary technician will remove tartar buildup, assess the depth of gum pockets, examine the surface of the teeth for any damage or decay, polish the enamel, and apply fluoride to strengthen the teeth.

If gum treatments or extractions are needed to maintain your pet’s health and comfort, your veterinarian can perform them during the procedure. In addition to routine dental procedures that occur in your family veterinarian’s office, some dogs and cats visit board-certified veterinary dentists for root canal treatments or the repair of fractured teeth.

Dr. Michael J. Watts owns and operates Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care in Amissville.

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