Pet Dental Health Month:

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Your pet's teeth need cleaning, too

By Regina Grayson

Her little legs trembled as she was placed on the observation table.

With large, doe-like eyes, she looked around in fear, with the hope of finding a friendly face.

At 14 years of age, Sandie, a poodle, had been brought to the Crenshaw Animal Clinic with a lot of health problems, some which could have possibly been prevented earlier in her life.

Dr. Alethea Gammage, D.V.M., pulled up Sandie's lips, revealing loose, rotting teeth, black decay and red, irritated gums.

&#8220If a human has an abscessed tooth, we'll miss work,” Gammage said. &#8220Just imagine having several in a small animal's mouth.”

Gammage said that most people don't think about the dental care of their pets.

February is Pet Dental Health Month, and it is the American Veterinarian Medical Association's campaign to raise pet owners' awareness to the importance of healthy teeth to their pet's overall good health.

Gammage said that there are several signs a pet owner can look for when it comes to a pet's dental health.

&#8220One of the first complaints we get is that the pet has really bad breath,” she said. &#8220That's a sure sign of possible dental problems.”

Other signs include the animal pawing at its mouth, it won't let the owner touch its mouth, or if the animal is irritable and snappy.

They can also act very lethargic, they won't eat, or they act like they just don't feel well.

&#8220We, as humans, don't realize the pain they could be in,” Gammage said.

She recommends that puppies and kittens have their teeth checked when they get their first vaccinations and then continue getting them checked every six months. Another good reminder for pet owners is to schedule an appointment to have their pet's teeth cleaned when they get their annual vaccinations.

&#8220If a dog comes in and hasn't seen a vet in 10 years, we find severe dental problems,” Gammage said. &#8220The main thing is, though, that bad teeth can cause liver infections in pets, kidney disease and cardiac problems, such as endocarditis, where the bacteria has gotten into the heart valves. It can affect the whole body.”

As Dr. Gammage began the oral surgery on Sandie the poodle, she easily pulled out the loose, rotting teeth, and then began scraping the black bacteria build-up from around other teeth. As she touched the gums, they began to bleed because of infection.

&#8220People will come in with older dogs like Sandie, and they'll have Grade 4 periodontal disease, which is the worst stage to have. If they had come in sooner, it could have been prevented.”

Gammage said that it is actually recommended to brush the pet's teeth once a day. Plus, there are toothpastes and toothbrushes specially made for animals' use. However, human toothpaste must never be used on an animal because of the fluoride.

&#8220Pets feel so much better with good dental health just like we do,” she said.

During the month of February, pet owners may call the Crenshaw Animal Clinic at 335-5309 to make an appointment for a complimentary dental exam.