URBANA — People aren't the only ones who suffer from toothaches and sore gums.
Dogs often have dental problems too, and they can't exactly tell anyone about it.
But relief may be in sight for at least some local working dogs suffering from tooth and gum pain: Guide dogs, military dogs, search-and-rescue dogs and other service dogs will be eligible to receive free oral health exams from the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The free exams will be provided throughout August on a first-come, first-served basis, according to vet med.
Dr. Sandra Manfra Marretta, a UI veterinary dentist, said the exams will be done without sedation, so only those dog owners who know their dogs will cooperate for an awake exam are encouraged to sign up.
Dogs will be examined for a normal, comfortable bite, proper tooth alignment, evidence of no missing or broken teeth or inflammation and other abnormalities, she said.
The owners will also be given a lesson in good preventive dental care for their pets.
That's important for all dogs, but service dogs can really suffer on the job if they're in tooth and gum pain, Marretta said. Picture the poor police dog trying to bite something on the job with broken teeth.
"What we most commonly see in police dogs are broken teeth," Marretta said. "When they break their teeth, it becomes quite sensitive, and causes infections in the underlying bone."
Working dogs may also be kenneled and break their teeth gnawing on the kennel bars, she said.
In all, she adds, "they're banging those teeth more often than a house pet."
Marretta said more than 80 percent of dogs age 3 and older have clinically significant dental disease, and when this goes untreated, it makes a dog uncomfortable and less active.
Neglected periodontal disease can even wind up affecting the dog's nasal cavity and causing nasal discharge and sneezing, especially in smaller-breed dogs, she said.
For any dog, service dog or family pet, Marretta says, it's well worth the trouble to try and brush the dog's teeth if the dog will tolerate it.
"You can imagine if you didn't brush your own teeth between cleanings, what a mess they would be," she says.
For those dogs that won't cooperate, she advises using some of the chew toys and foods recommended to help clean dog teeth, "but the gold standard is brushing," she said.
The free exams for service exams are being offered through a national program of the American Veterinary Dental College, and to sign up for one through the UI Teaching Hospital, dog owners must first register online at avdc.org.
Follow the link to Service Dog Oral Health Exam program.
Once you register, schedule an appointment by calling Misty Croy at 333-5859.
If any dental problems are found in the exams, service dog owners will be given a care plan and are eligible for reduced fees through the UI Teaching Hospital