For a number of years now, statistics used by various veterinary organizations have indicated that, by age three, 80 % of dogs and 70 % of cats have periodontal disease. More recent studies by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) reveal that nothing's changed.

There are more dental diets and dental treats on the market, there are pet toothbrushes and toothpaste wherever you buy your pet supplies, and professionals throughout the pet industry have raised pet owner awareness regarding the importance of pet dental health. Or so it was thought.

The AAHA study showed that about two thirds of pet owners don't provide the level of dental health care recommended as essential by veterinarians.

Some dogs and cats will let you work their mouth to your heart's content, but most will only give you a brief moment of their time, and still others will have none of it. It's worth it, though, for you to exercise your alpha rights and provide home dental care.

Periodontal disease starts out as a simple plaque build-up, but, if unchecked, can escalate to a serious, if not life-threatening, situation. At its worst, periodontal disease can cause problems ranging from tooth loss to serious conditions of the heart, lungs and liver because bacteria circulate and infect those organs.

Chronic bad breath is usually one of the first signs of a dental problem. There are doggy breath sweeteners on the market but they don't address the problem and, in fact, can cause delay in getting necessary treatment. Chronic bad breath is a symptom. It could mean a systemic problem, but most likely it's periodontal disease.

If your dog occasionally gets into something that causes him to have an episode of bad breath, it's not likely that he has a serious problem. But if his "doggy breath" is chronic or at least a frequent occurrence, you should schedule a dental check up with your vet.

A thorough dental exam requires that a short term anesthetic be administered since most pets won't sit still for anything but a cursory peek. While the animal is asleep a detailed exam and cleaning can be completed.

For pets with tartar build-up, scaling is called for. The vet will use instruments similar to the ones our dentist uses, get above and below the gum lines, and smooth out scratches in the enamel with a polishing paste.

Your vet can use fluoride treatments and sealants that create a barrier against future plaque build-up, but it would really help if you provide home dental care. If brushing is a particular problem for you, maybe you could just swab the teeth with a gauze pad and pet toothpaste.

The gauze provides enough abrasive action to remove plaque before it hardens into tartar, and the enzyme action of the toothpaste would work on the hard to get stuff.

According to the AAHA you can add up to 5 years to the life of your pet with proper dental care. Now doesn’t it seem worth the effort?

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