February has been designated as Pet Dental Month for 20 years. In spite of promoting dental care, we have only made a small amount of progress in improving the lives of our pets. There are two major reasons why.
• Many veterinarians while cleaning are not equipped to take dental radiographs (x-rays) therefore failing to identify all the problems. Remember half the tooth is hidden below the gum line.
• Veterinarians and caretakers are waiting too long before starting routine professional cleaning and oral examination. Dogs and cats should have their teeth cleaned for the first time between 2-3 years of age and yearly thereafter.
Our pets’ caretakers are often surprised when their four to seven year old pets already have serious dental issues. Often these will require tooth extractions. We have an enormous amount of information that has accumulated over twenty years regarding pet dental care. Why does this persist in being a major problem?
The amount of time for dental training is minimal, leaving new veterinarians with minimal knowledge of proper dental care and treatment. Veterinary training in school must cover many topics other than just dentistry.
Dental training, depending on when one graduated, could have been nonexistent or only a small part of veterinary training. Human dentists focus only on dentistry in school, while veterinarians must focus on all aspect of your pets’ health as well as differences in species and all the various diseases worldwide. Many dedicated hours of continuing education have been added to our school knowledge to become efficient in treating and managing dental disease.
The cost of equipment and its maintenance is high. Many veterinarians do not have proper dental equipment such as dental radiographs (x-rays). Hospitals that are cleaning teeth without dental radiographs are unable to properly identify dental abscesses and other problems occurring below the gum line, where many of the problems occur.
Just as in people, dental disease starts at a young age, not just after six years old. In dogs under 40 pounds, there are a variety of structural factors that predispose them to major dental disease. These patients should have teeth cleanings at least yearly beginning at three years of age. Some larger breed dogs have less problems, but still require regular exams. This message is being poorly communicated.
Wolves have 42 teeth with massive jaws and bone structure to support the teeth. The Chihuahua has 42 teeth with a jaw structure that is as thin as tissue paper around many of the teeth. In addition, there is marked crowding of these teeth together to maneuver that many teeth in a small jaw structure. This complicates the problem. These miniature jaws, in our small breed dogs, rapidly become infected with bacteria, quickly decaying everything near them. The destruction causes pain, structural bone loss, resulting in teeth falling out with an abscessed root left within the jawbone, hiding and harboring decay.
A recent study was done of over 4,000 dogs covering 15 years. They compared dogs that had their teeth cleaned yearly to those which were randomly cleaned or not cleaned at all. They found those who had their teeth cleaned lived 20% longer and had a better quality of life. Now, how many of us would like to add an extra 20% to the lives of our dog?
– Donald Loden DVM, CVA,CVPP
Original Post to Facebook Live: February Pet Dental Month