Pet Points: TV story on dental care wrong

Veterinarian Marty Becker might be the nation's most popular animal doctor. He is an author, speaker and spokesman who was a frequent guest on "Good Morning America." He teaches the public about proper pet care and lectures veterinarians about the human/companion animal bond.

Unfortunately, he was interviewed for a recent ABC "20/20" segment that portrayed veterinarians in a bad light. Following a story on car thieves, TV viewers were advised to beware of veterinarians who recommend dental cleanings under anesthesia and who vaccinate annually. After the interview and broadcast of the segment, he was so incensed that he has severed his ties with the network.

In the show, dogs were taken to a veterinarian and given a clean bill of health. Then the dogs were presented to other veterinarians for physical examinations. Some of the veterinarians suggested dental surgery to clean their teeth.

Occasionally in my office we have done a quick hand scaling of the upper canine teeth with cooperative patients. However, anesthesia is needed to evaluate and properly remove tarter and polish all the surfaces. New guidelines have been recently published requiring anesthesia for all dental cleaning.

Dental disease is common in dogs and cats and can lead to infection, mouth odor and tooth loss. Lift the lip of most older pets, and owners can see for themselves plaque and tarter. Gums can become inflamed, and periodontal disease follows.

The "20/20" show's producers warned viewers that veterinarians "up sell" the need for a dental surgery. The warning for owners should have been: Do not neglect your pets' dental health.

In the segment, a dog named Honey had a gum mass that was seen by every veterinarian and technician who watched the show. Although often benign, these masses should be examined and removed when small and operable if possible.

The show also criticized veterinarians who recommend annual vaccines. As discussed in previous Pet Points columns, vaccines ensure protection from preventable diseases such as rabies. Every veterinarian should follow the well-known guidelines. Preventative vaccines should be discussed and given only after a complete history and physical exam. Adult dogs and cats still need some vaccines annually, but the dog-DHPP and cat-FVRCP vaccines have a much longer duration of immunity.

Pet owners are always advised to consult with a veterinarian about what vaccines are needed; they should be careful about some vaccine providers who do not follow standard recommendations.

The public should have faith and trust in their veterinarians, and this television segment infuriated every honest person who works in the veterinary profession. Marty Becker is a tireless animal advocate whose comments were taken out of context to bolster a falsehood. I respect him for taking a public stand for the animals all veterinarians strive to serve. Television producers must be careful about the harm that can follow from a poorly contrived and sensationalized show.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.