February is National Pet Dental month. During that time, veterinarians around the country raise awareness about dental diseases in pets. Dental disease is the number one disease in pets. More than 85 % of pets over the age of four have periodontal disease, a more advance and irreversible form of dental disease. Because of bacteria, entering the blood stream and spreading to vital organs, pets with dental disease live, on the average, two to four years less than pets who do not suffer from this condition.

I always notice that some dogs look so beautiful on the outside, having been groomed on a weekly basis, yet they have severe infection in their mouth, with halitosis (bad breath), which really takes your breath away. Let me explain: Pet owners often spend around $40 to $50 per week on grooming in order for their pets to look beautiful — certainly a good reason. But they completely ignore a potentially life threatening infection of the mouth.

This is where I “paws” for thought: Annually, they spend over $2000 for beauty, but they will not allow dental cleaning because it is too expensive. But beautifying your pet on the outside is equivalent to washing and detailing your car regularly, but never performing oil change.

While the risk of anesthesia is, of course, a deterring factor, it seems to me that cost is always an issue. But, all in all, while not inexpensive, dental cleaning, which involves blood work, ECG, anesthesia, monitoring, sub gingival scaling and polishing, x-rays and occasionally antibiotics is a bargain, cost-wise. This is especially true when comparing to the human side and not to mention how vital dental cleaning is for your pet’s comfort and longevity.

I suspect that if your pet could talk, he or she would agree: “I would rather live long and comfortable than die young and pretty.”

Dr. Ohad Barnea is a 1992 graduate of Tufts University, School of Veterinary Medicine and the owner of Tenafly Veterinary Center and Cliffside Park Animal Hospital.

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