By Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM

As I drove home from my office yesterday, I thought to myself, I really enjoy my profession because I love the fact that I can “make a difference” in the lives of pets and their owners on a daily basis.

On this particular day I was able to provide dental care for an aging kitty who otherwise could have suffered from the side effects of dental disease. What a difference I was able to make in her overall health and comfort as I identified and removed many broken and diseased teeth. Without this care, she could have suffered from systemic disease.

This story is especially important to tell now because February is National Pet Dental Health Month. During this month, many veterinarians around the country provide free dental exams and reduced rate dental cleanings to encourage better dental hygiene which leads to overall better pet health.

Pets can’t tell you that their teeth hurt and there may be no outward indication that they are in pain. Even though you may open your pet’s mouth and it all looks ok on the surface, there’s no way to know for certain. And although bad breath is not always a sign of tooth decay, it can indicate that a problem tooth that needs to be addressed.

A complete dental exam and thorough cleaning allows the veterinarian to carefully identify problem areas and perform deep cleaning around the teeth. Your vet also will probe the gums for “pockets” that indicate decay and potential disease in the bone around the tooth.

More important, dental disease can lead to systemic infections. Significant dental disease in the mouth can allow dangerous bacteria to enter the blood stream and cause life-threatening illness in the heart, lungs, kidneys and bones.

Dental disease also can complicate other disease processes. If a pet has to fight an infection in the mouth, it becomes even more difficult to fight infections in other areas of the body.

So, take advantage of National Pet Dental Health Month and schedule your pets for their dental exam. You’ll have healthier, happier pets overall!

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, is a graduate of Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and owns Mountain Mobile Veterinary Service in Eagle and Vail, CO. She’s a 1983 graduate of Ellicottville Central School and a frequent visitor to Ellicottville where her parents still live and her father Dana and brothers Greg and Dan own and run Fitzpatrick and Weller. She provides this column as a public service to pet owners in our area.