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Pet plaque problems

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(WFLX) - Your pet's teeth can be the tip of real problems in their overall health. "Disease can go to the kidneys and the heart and the brain and really cause a lot of damage," said Dr. Jan Bellows with the American Veterinary Dental College.

If you've ever tried, you may already know it's not so simple to say 'open wide' to an animal. "It's kind of a problem where she has such a small mouth; it's tough to get a brush in there," said pet owner Lori Macaione.

Your veterinarian can help with a dental cleaning, but that can be one expensive option when less costly alternatives exist. They include everything from wipes to water drops to special chew toys, there are all kinds of products on the market to help clean your pet's teeth. "I do try and wipe her mouth with some pads I have," said Macaione.

However, according to Dr. Bellows, with some of these products, their bark may be more effective than their bite. "A lot of times the product will say they will do something, but there's no research that shows they actually will," he said.

The Food and Drug Administration is in charge of regulating medical claims made on pet products, but unless the product is promising to cure a disease or contains what might be considered a drug, experts say, it's up to consumers to figure out what works and what doesn't.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council, or VOHC, says the effectiveness of many of these products hasn't been tested adequately.

In fact, Dr. Bellows says some can even be harmful. He's performed many root canals on dog teeth broken by bones. "Unfortunately, the products may actually injure the dental because they're too hard to chew on," said Dr. Bellows.

So what's a loving owner to do? "Look on the back of the container and look for a Veterinary Oral Health Council seal. If you see one, it's a product considered safe and effective," he said.

The VOHC is a scientist-run group that's part of the veterinary dental college. It reviews research submitted by manufacturers, only 29 products have the seal so far. "There are products that have been shown to be effective by independent studies research that shows they will control plaque and will control tartar," said Bellows. "These products are awarded a seal."

Still not sure if your pet has a problem or you need these products? Dr. Bellows says their breath will tell you. "If your pet's breath doesn't smell like roses, there's a problem," concluded Dr. Bellows.

Click for list of products approved by the VOHC.

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