DennisBeaverNovember 03, 2012(Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Last week we began our look at pet oral hygiene clinics, typically held at grooming facilities by people who, according to The California Veterinarian Medical Board and California Department of Consumer Affairs, perform illegal dental procedures.

First, the State of California does not recognize the title “pet oral hygienist” and believes the use of this term is misleading. Second, pnly a veterinarian may use motorized or sharp scalars — required to get under the gum — for proper plaque and tartar removal.

“It is medically impossible to perform an adequate cleaning without these instruments.

It is, however, legal to brush an animal’s teeth, to use gauze, floss or toothpastes, and anyone — including pet owners — may do so. “But this is not sufficient,” maintains Dr. Lee Fausett of the Hanford Veterinary Hospital.

As the following story illustrates, a visit to a “pet oral clinic” may indeed give you back a dog or cat with pretty teeth — and a life-threatening oral disease.

But Mr. Wiggles never complained

For years, Sylvia took her 10-year-old  pooch, “Mr. Wiggles,” to a Los Angeles pet groomer every few months for hair trimming and “an all-around appearance tuneup.”  This included teeth cleaning and polishing when the groomer would hold oral hygiene “clinics,” returning “a lovely mutt with gleaming teeth,” our Porterville reader stated.

“But about a year ago, I noticed that Mr. Wiggles seemed to be less hungry than normal, began to lose weight, was chewing in an odd way, which was pointed  out to the groomer, who told me that it was normal for an aging dog to show that kind of eating behavior and to just give him soft food.”

This was nonsense, but Sylvia didn’t know it. In fact, her dog was in horrible pain, and very ill, but Mr. Wiggles “never seemed to complain, he never cried or gave any indication that things were not normal.”

Sylvia would soon learn what countless other pet owners discover about how dogs and cats react when in pain. But first, things had to get much worse.

“When we detected his very bad breath, and our normally affectionate dog wanted nothing to do with anyone, we took him to a veterinarian, and were astonished to learn that he had a mouth filled with rotting teeth, had horrible gum problems, as well as a nasty abscess! The vet had to extract several teeth, put him on strong antibiotics, but a few weeks later, our very own Mr. Wiggles was himself again.

“The vet explained that for a very long time, untreated gum disease caused terrible pain, systemic infection, and that the groomer obviously didn’t notice or care.”

“All it would have taken was for your groomer or his so-called dog hygienist to just examine the mouth carefully — if they even knew what to look for! White teeth is no assurance of good oral health,” the doctor noted.

“Now, we tell our friends to take their dogs to a real vet for dental care. But the strangest thing was that we did not realize our dog was in pain. We all feel so guilty, and are lucky he pulled through. ” Sylvia told us, cute little Mr. Wiggles in her lap, a happy pooch generous with licks — and we got several!

A very common, sometimes deadly story

“Your reader was lucky,” Dr. Fausett told You and the Law.

“Animals by instinct, when in pain, do not draw attention to themselves. Even in a pack, an injured dog remains quiet so as to not become prey, a target, revealing weakness.

“There are case studies showing that cats and dogs can be very good actors, hiding illness and pain, trying to appear as normal as possible, and this makes it difficult for pet owners to know what’s really going on.

“So, it’s when eating or other behavior has changed,  you need to assume something is wrong and take action,” added Dr. Rhett Swasey, who practices veterinarian medicine with Fausett at the Hanford Veterinary Hospital and seconded Fausett’s comments:

“White teeth — a dog’s or our own — does not mean healthy teeth or gums. And it is medically impossible to do a proper job of teeth cleaning unless you can get under the gum, scrape away the plaque with appropriate ultrasonic or mechanical means, all of which requires being licensed by the state. The absolute majority of these grooming facilities are not licensed to perform services which a vet is licensed to do,” he stressed.

“A good groomer is part of a team, and should keep owners informed of their dog’s general health.  But groomers must also know their limits and stay away from performing services — such as illegal forms of teeth cleaning,” Swasey and Fausett both firmly maintain.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.