My father graduated from Wyandotte High School in May 1944.
The entire world was engulfed in World War II. It had been since Sept. 1939.
Every facet of his young life was dominated by world events. By 1944, the Allies had pushed back the Nazis on the eastern front. D-Day was just a few weeks away. The Marines were Island-hopping in the Pacific, pushing the Japanese expansion back toward their home Island. But there was still the real possibility that the Axis powers could once again turn the tide with some "wonder weapon."
America could still lose the war. The last years of the war were the most violent and deadly. Millions were dead, and millions more would be before it was over. My father knew there was no chance to avoid the draft.
His chance to choose his form of service came in the way of his parents, my grandparents. They signed papers when he was 17 years old that allowed him to join the war effort early. After much consideration, he chose to join the Navy. His sole reason was he heard they had better food and better health care. My father said he had never been seen by a dentist.
He also grew up poor. There were seven siblings in a small house in the area known as "Strawberry Hill" in Kansas City, Kansas. Food, clothing and about everything else was in short supply. My father was born in 1927 and raised during the Great Depression. For their family, the "Dirty Thirties" affected the rest of their lives.
The Navy did have dentists. My father never stopped warning us kids about proper dental hygiene. His first trip turned into multiple trips as they worked on his mouth. Cavities were filled. Bad and broken teeth pulled. He described it as a form of torture.
The dentists had thousands of young men to see with limited time to see them. With his constant reminders of those events, my siblings and I have enjoyed good dental health all our lives. For those I know with poor dental health, the pain they describe is close to unbearable.
This lead-in is all for the next part of my post.
Dogs and, to a lesser extent, cats, have a wide array of dental diseases. The most common is periodontal disease. The term means disease of the gums and tissues around the teeth. Almost every dog we see has some form of periodontal disease.
It begins with mild tartar build up, that first brown crust that forms at the base of the teeth. The tarter grows thicker with time and begins to trap food and foreign material against the gums. Bacteria grows in this nutrient-rich environment. A constant subclinical infection begins. That is when the owners start complaining of "dog breath." Some dogs teeth are so infected that you can smell their mouth from across the room. Eventually, all the teeth are lost.
But not before they cause years of pain and adversely affect many organ systems, the heart valves and kidneys being the most serious. The constant mouth infection leads to a shorter life in most dogs.
The gold standard of dental care is the same for dogs as it is for humans. Brushing your teeth after every meal. There are a wide array of products available to the public for just that. Flavored toothpaste, special brushes, finger cots with toothbrushes on the tips, etc. But the fact is, most dogs hate having their mouth messed with, and owners have a hard time keeping up a routine at home.
So what to do?
As soon as your dog shows signs of dental disease, get them cleaned by a veterinarian. Most vets or their techs do routine cleanings. The teeth are scaled, scored and polished. Extractions of diseased teeth is also performed. All for an amazingly low price compared to human dentistry. The big hold-up for most clients is the need for general anesthesia. They are afraid their dog will die.
In my nearly 40 years of practice, we have never lost a dog during a dental.
That doesn't mean it can't happen, but it is very rare. The other concern is the lost teeth. Dogs' teeth do not have a chewing surface like humans. They have
a shearing surface to bite food into smaller pieces as to be swallowed. Dogs are healthier with no teeth than a mouth full of infected teeth and gums. They will eat hard or soft food just fine with no teeth. The pain will be gone, and as many owners have told me, they wished they had gotten them cleaned sooner.
So, if your dog gets in your face to excitedly give you a kiss, but his breath smells like he has a dead rat in his mouth, give us or your vet a call and get them cleaned. You won't regret it.