Pogo had a problem. The fluffy white feline with beautiful blue eyes was lazy, even for a cat. His owners, Mark and Jane Vail, also noticed he had terrible breath. After visiting a veterinarian near their home in St. Louis, the Vails learned the conditions were related: Pogo was listless because his teeth were bad. Still, after pulling six incisors, his problems continued. "We needed experts," Jane Vail says, "so we brought Pogo to see Dr. Meadows."
They made the right choice. Richard Meadows, a clinical associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at MU, is a big believer in veterinary dentistry. And for good reason. Dogs and cats three years old and older have an 80 to 85 percent chance of acquiring dental disease. Left untreated, dental disease can damage a pet's heart, liver and kidneys.
Unfortunately, veterinary dentists are something of a rare breed. "There are approximately 75 board-certified veterinarians who can perform dentistry in the United States and probably less than 100 in the world," Meadows says.
That will be changing, thanks in part to a $76,000 gift from Pfizer Animal Health to the University's College of Veterinary Medicine. The cash will allow more MU vet students to acquire better dentistry skills.
Currently, 65 students enrolled in two required courses covering dentistry share two sets of air-powered dental units, much like those used on human teeth. "We're not able to cover a lot of procedures because there are groups of people waiting to access a high-speed hand piece," Meadows says.
With Pfizer's gift, the college will be able to purchase as many as 18 more sets of dental air units, along with x-ray machines and hand instruments to clean and extract teeth. "Each group of four students will have its own set of tools. We'll be much more efficient and able to cover more procedures."
Meadows has purposefully selected equipment in a variety of brands. "Veterinary students will be better off if they have used X, Y and Z brands and have experienced the pluses and minuses of each one. They will make more informed decisions when they go to buy that equipment for their own practices."
When they see cats, the new vets' knowledge of equipment will likely allow them, for example, to better recognize and treat gingivostomatitis, the problem plaguing Pogo.
Likely caused by an overreaction of the immune system to plaque, gingivostomatitis results in painful inflammation and ulceration of the mouth lining. Pogo's treatment required Meadows to pull all but one of his teeth. As terrible as that sounds, Vail says Pogo has done beautifully since his surgery: "He's so much healthier now. He's gained weight, and he's very active. He just seems to feel so much better."