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News Story
Updated: 01/15/2014 08:00:01AM

Your pet’s teeth are important too

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Lori Schank


Just a little bit between the cheek (if that's what it is) and the gums will do your pet some good.

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Sometimes it’s a little amazing just how much our furry little friends are like us.

There are many ways they can mirror our illnesses and maladies, and one of the most common is dental issues.

Recently, a major television network news magazine program indicated that dental procedures recommended by veterinarians are often unnecessary. So I was heartened to see the Chicago Tribune shortly after the report aired repudiated much of the information, under the headline “Most veterinarians, evidence indicates, are honest with pet owners.”

The reason many in our profession cringed at the television report is because dental issues are among the most common problems we see in our exam rooms. Studies have indicated that as many as 75 percent of dogs have some type of dental issue going on by as early as age 3 or 4.

It’s important to explain why periodontal issues are so concerning in otherwise healthy appearing dogs. Without getting too technical on you, the area between the roots of the teeth with more than one root is known as the furcation. That area in dogs is much closer to the gum line than it is in people. So when there is gum-line recession in dogs, there is even more area exposed to plaque and tartar which can quickly lead to more serious medical conditions with organs like the heart and liver. If you own a smaller breed, especially ones with a “short” face like a Pug or Pekingese, you need to be vigilant because teeth in those dogs tend to be a little more “crowded” together than in larger breed dogs.

There are many ways to spot the beginnings of issues, starting with the discoloration on teeth and bad breath. Other telltale signs might be small spots of blood on your dogs favorite chew toy, drooling, inflamed gums and loose teeth.

Most of us at some point during our morning routine spend a minute or two brushing our teeth, but only about 1 percent of pet owners ever perform that maintenance action on their dogs or cats. There are special brushes and toothpaste that most veterinarians stock which should be used. The ASPCA also notes a paste of baking soda and water is OK for Fido, but not any human fluoride pastes, since they can bother your dog’s stomach. I know it’s not practical for many owners to devote time every day to this task, although that would be best for the dog. But finding time a couple of times a week would go a long ways toward warding off periodontal concerns.

Chew toys and dry food, especially larger kibble, can also help scrape and massage teeth and gums but alone are not likely to stave off dental issues for a lifetime.

Periodontal disease is a serious medical condition when left untreated over a long period of time. The rate at which plaque and tartar can build up is different from dog to dog. Some dogs can have quick enough build up to require an almost yearly cleaning — and in rare cases more often — while other dogs can go several years before needing similar attention.

For trivia fans, know that there are 42 teeth in the mouth of a normal, healthy dog. Taking care of each one will help lead to a happier, healthier, longer life for your pet.

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