DennisBeaverOctober 27, 2012(Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Most of us who own pets consider them to be members of the family, and today’s story will be of special interest to pet owners everywhere. But consider this:

Chances are that many of our pet-owner readers are letting their pets down by neglecting oral and dental health. That’s right, just as we two-legged critters need to maintain our own dental hygiene, our pets are no different, only we can’t hand them a tooth brush and tube of toothpaste and expect anything but an enormous mess.

“But, Beav, I know that, and am aware of the importance of teeth cleaning,” you might be thinking. “My groomer has wonderful dental clinics, and returns my dog to me with gleaming teeth, because their pet dental hygienist does such a good job.”

Far from this column to rain on anyone’s parade, but the California Veterinary Medical Association and Department of Consumer Affairs does not recognize that title. Yet, there are indeed clinics all over the state, typically held at grooming facilities, and they do return Fido to his owner with pretty teeth, often violating the law.

But, as you’ll see, beauty is far less than skin deep.

‘Pretty Teeth, alright, Pretty Rotten Teeth’

“Pet owners are not only being scammed, but expose their pets to serious health risk when they take them to so-called oral hygiene clinics, typically held at pet groomer facilities,” Hanford veterinarian Dr. Lee Fausett tells You and the Law.

“There are very real, life-shortening consequences of the cosmetic teeth cleaning these businesses perform, but which typically does nothing to address build-up of plaque, tartar and other below-the-gumline undiagnosed dangerous oral conditions,” he points out.

“Anyone may use a tooth brush, dental floss, topical product or gauze to clean a dog or cat’s teeth, but that is not sufficient to deal with hard tartar or plaque, incredibly common with so many pets for the simple reason that most owners are completely unaware of the connection between oral health and general health.

“In many ways, dogs and cats really are a lot like us, and when we go to a dentist for teeth cleaning, the dentist or hygienist will use a powered instrument — Cavitron — or a sharp instrument, such a hand scalar or scraper. That’s the only way you can remove plaque and tartar, getting under the gum, and assure good tooth and gum health.

“But the only people who can legally perform these services are veterinarians, or a trained person working under the direct supervision of a vet. Under current law, it is illegal for anyone else to use these devices on your pet,” he stressed.

No cavities, but what’s going on under the gumline is the real concern

Dr. Rhett Swasey practices with Fausett and has seen the tragic results of loving dogs and cats whose teeth gleam after a visit to one of these “clinics,”  but are facing horrible — sometimes life-threatening — oral problems as a result:

“Dogs and cats don’t usually get cavities — and so the surface may appear ok — but very similar to us, the biggest concern is what is going on under the gumline, where good periodontal health is critical. There are many dental and general health issues tied directly to the pet’s gum health: bleeding gums, losing teeth, systemic body infections, bladder, heart disease, pain, difficulty chewing — in fact, all the same things that can affect the  owner.

“Often pet owners have a false sense of security, thinking that after their groomer has done a good job of teeth cleaning, and the dog’s teeth look great, that’s it, and Fido has good oral health. But you know the old saying about beauty being skin deep.

“We have one owner who would take her dog every six to eight weeks to a groomer for teeth cleaning, absolutely convinced that her pet was getting excellent care. We needed to extract three teeth, there was so much decay. After the extractions, and a course of antibiotics, her dog was back to it’s old self.

‘Owners Are Generally Unaware Their Pet Is In Pain’

“We see so many dogs — 8, 10, 12 years of age who have never had any professional oral care — and they have horribly severe oral disease, a mouth filled with rotten teeth, teeth falling out, teeth which are held together by the plaque! It is clear to us the owner truly loves the pet, but is simply not aware of just how bad things are — that the dog is in terrible pain — and that a dog can suffer the same health issues as a human, all because of poor or nonexistent oral hygiene,” Dr. Swasey concluded.

But exactly why are owners not aware their pet is suffering? The surprising answer next time.

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