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Pet Talk: Dentists can be crucial to health

Eileen Putman
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Eileen Putman/APDr. Barron Hall, left, prepares Tobey, a 3-year-old Sheltie, for anesthesia and teeth cleaning in Vienna, Va.
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VIENNA, Va. ” Kip wore down his canine teeth playing Frisbee. Shipmate’s abscess was making her face swell. Trigger’s baby teeth had overstayed their welcome. Enter Dr. Barron Hall, pet dentist.

I first discovered Hall’s little-known field when my kitten, Rags, dashed outside, scooted high up a tree, and then fell or jumped to the concrete patio below, fracturing a canine. Our vet sent us to Hall.

Yes, it was expensive: more than $600 for X-rays, blood work, anesthesia, and a procedure to close off the tooth’s inner pulp. That doesn’t include the cost of a root canal, which might eventually be needed to preserve Rags’ tooth.

But broken teeth can be dangerous. Bacteria get inside the tooth, infecting and killing it. Infection can spread to other areas of the body. It’s best to treat a fracture right away, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society.

“The cost is a lot, but you need it,” agreed dog owner Tom Niedermaier of Vienna, whose 2-year-old border collie, Kip, got metal crowns and a root canal from Hall after Frisbee took a toll on his canines.

Frisbee hazards aside, pets also need dental cleanings and daily tooth brushing just as we do, says the American Veterinary Medical Association. Most pets don’t get either.

In fact, periodontal disease is the most common disease in adult dogs and cats, according to a December report in the AVMA’s journal. It’s not a benign condition ” bacteria lurking beneath the gums cause infection and travel to other organs, shortening a pet’s life.

Yet few veterinary schools have a formal dental training program, said Dr. Sharon L. Hoffman, the report’s author, and many schools cover little “beyond general cleaning or pulling.”

Fewer than 100 vets ” Hall is one of them ” are certified by the American Veterinary Dental College. Certification takes years and can include a professional residency and supervision by a mentor.

Many regular vets do basic dentistry like cleanings and take classes to improve their skills ” though that doesn’t necessarily qualify them for specialized work.

“You get people who go to a weekend course and they think they can do a root canal,” Hall said. “I never did a root canal, or attempted one, until my residency and I had my mentor there to hold my hand.”

Most of Hall’s patients aren’t as exotic, but their problems can be acute. Lorax, a 161⁄2-year-old cat, has mouth and jaw cancer. His owner was shocked at the diagnosis when she brought him in for a routine dental check.

“He showed no signs. He was eating, happy,” said Kristen Cady, of Fort Washington, Md.

That’s one of the misconceptions about our pets, Hall says: that as long as they’re eating, they’re fine. Not so.

“They’re going to eat at all costs,” he said. “Because of our lack of training and education, our pets are left to suffer in silence. They’re not going to complain.”

How to tell if your pet has a dental problem? A common sign is bad breath.

“There should never be an odor from a cat or dog’s mouth,” said Hoffman. “The odor is infection.”


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