Vail Pet Talk column: Regular cleanings and dental care can prevent health problems | VailDaily.com

Vail Pet Talk column: Regular cleanings and dental care can prevent health problems

As a veterinarian for many years here in the Vail Valley, I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to see a lot of pets, which has allowed me to become familiarized with some of the more common problems pets have as they come to my office for their routine or even emergency pet visits. Some of the more common issues pets face are dental issues.

Did you know that pets need routine dental care such as you do? A common misconception of pet owners is that pets do not require dental care. This is not true.

Both dogs and cats are very prone to many different types of dental problems, and the first step in assuring your pet has good dental health is a visit to your veterinarian for a dental examination.

Dental health is important

One of the more common clinical conditions affecting dogs and cats is periodontal disease. By age 3, most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease, and other than perhaps detecting bad breath, you may not even know your pet has it. If left untreated, then dental disease can lead to systemic disease in your pet and cause damage to internal organs as your pet ages.

What happens often with pets is that they develop plaque on their teeth, and with the minerals in your pet's saliva, the plaque can become hardened and allow damage to begin to the underlying teeth, as well as allow bacteria to set in. Without routine cleaning, infections under the plaque and eventual decay go unnoticed and subsequent problems arise.

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Another common clinical condition affecting dogs and cats is fractured teeth. Initially, you may only notice that there is a slight crack in the enamel of a tooth, and over time, the tooth becomes discolored, the gum perhaps swollen and then an abscess can occur. Once the enamel layer of the tooth is damaged, unwanted bacteria can get into the underlying layers of the tooth and result in pain and infection.

During your pet's veterinary visit, your veterinarian can identify if there are fractures in the teeth and if the enamel can indeed be repaired or if the tooth will need to be extracted.

In addition to periodontal disease and fractured teeth, cats can develop something called resorptive lesions. These are actual holes in the teeth at the gum line, areas of decay, and if left untreated, they can become painful to the cat. These are what we refer to as cavities in cats. Cats, compared to dogs, have a moderately higher amount of bacteria in their mouth, and as teeth decay and there is potential for systemic infection, this can become an emergent situation for your pet. Thus, it is just as important for cat owners as it is for dog owners to have a dental exam done, at least on a yearly basis.

Happier and healthier

Oral cancers are also common in dogs and cats, and it is during those routine exams that we as veterinarians examine under a pet's tongue, in the back of the mouth, roof of the mouth and along the gum lines for any unusual growths. Once identified, these lesions can be biopsied and diagnosed and your pet can get the appropriate treatment.

There are many types of dental issues, and we have only touched on a few, but as a veterinarian, I cannot emphasize enough how important that annual check-up with your veterinarian can be in identifying any type of oral pathology.

Your veterinarian may recommend a full cleaning, during which your pet's teeth are ultrasonically cleaned and professionally polished, followed by a detailed probing of all the teeth to check for initial evidence of pockets and damaged teeth. In the past few years, dental radiography has also become increasingly popular, as we are able to identify problem areas in your pet's mouth far before you see it visually.

Dental care in pets has continued to advance to a high level, and through the help of your veterinarian, you can give your pet a longer, happier and healthier life by starting with a good dental program.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center, submitted this column. You can reach her at 970-328-7085.