Welcome to another edition of the popular “Did you know…” pet health series. Fido and Fluffy are grinning, because February is National Pet Dental Health Month. That’s right, pets have teeth, too.

There are many misperceptions about pet oral care. This is the first of a three-part series, and will highlight aspects of routine dental care. The next two months will focus on dental concerns in puppies and kittens, and painful dental disease in adult pets.

Here are some dental pearls to help you keep Fido’s and Fluffy’s pearly whites in tip-top shape:

    • Did you know… daily home dental care is as important for your pet as it is for you? Imagine going weeks, months, or years without brushing your teeth. Your breath would stink and your mouth would feel terrible.

      The problem? Pets are susceptible to dental disease just as people are. Gingivitis and periodontal disease are common problems. These conditions are painful and progress to mobile and abscessed teeth, and sometimes even blood infections.What to do? Brush your pets’ teeth every day. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste made for pets. This comes in yummy flavors such as beef, poultry, and seafood. Ask your veterinary team to teach you how so do this so that your pet will love the routine.

    • Did you know… some pet foods and treats with dental health claims on their labels may benefit your pet’s teeth if used regularly? These products are especially beneficial to the chewing teeth (premolars and molars).

      The problem? Choosing pet treats or diets that help Fido’s and Fluffy’s teeth can be overwhelming because the market is flooded with so many choices. Using the wrong product may be detrimental, either by not helping prevent dental disease, or by causing other issues such as gastrointestinal upset.

      What to do? Look for products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval. The VOHC is an independent group of veterinary dentists and researchers that review pet diets, treats, and other products that claim to benefit pet dental health. Products that pass the VOHC evaluation have the VOHC seal prominently displayed on the label. Go to www.VOHC.org for more information.

    • Did you know… regular dry pet food does not help keep teeth clean and healthy?

      The problem? Dry pet food crumbles when chewed, as toast and crackers do when we eat them. We do not rely on toast-eating to replace our dental care, and we cannot rely on dry pet food to help keep our pets’ teeth clean. The carbohydrates also contribute to the sticky plaque that adheres to teeth. This is the first step that leads to periodontal disease and infection.

      What to do? Feed your pet a dental-approved diet with the VOHC seal of approval. These diets are specially formulated to scrape the teeth clean when chewed. The VOHC seal is proof that the diet performs as the label says it will.

    • Did you know… all pets need periodic professional dental care?

      The problem? Daily home dental care is a huge benefit to your pet’s oral health, but it does not eliminate all dental disease. This is no different for pets than it is for us. We brush every day and see our dentist every six months.

      What to do? The American Veterinary Dental College recommends annual professional dental care for all pets. In addition to cleanings and periodontal treatments, these visits look for other oral problems such as tumors, resorption or cavities, and fractured teeth or roots. Nevertheless, a good general rule of thumb is that the more you do at home for Fido’s and Fluffy’s teeth, the less your veterinarian needs to be involved. The best plan for pet dental health is daily home care with periodic professional dental care.

    • Did you know… dental radiographs are an essential part of your pet’s dental appointment?

The problem? Not all pets receive the benefit of oral radiographs when they have dental work performed. A proper dental appointment for pets involves scaling (cleaning) and polishing the teeth, applying fluoride, and a thorough oral exam. Your veterinarian should examine and probe the teeth and surrounding structures. Oral radiographs are essential to know what is going on under the gumline. For example, does Fido have fractured tooth roots? Or, is Fluffy’s tooth abscessed? These questions can only be answered with radiographs. Similarly, extractions cannot be competently performed without dental radiographs.

What to do? Talk to your veterinarian before scheduling your pet’s dental appointment. Make sure their hospital equipment includes dental radiography, and that this is a routine standard-of-care for all their dental patients.

A good way to sweeten your Valentine’s Day with Fido or Fluffy would be to freshen their breath. Peek in their mouths; take a sniff, too, and know that your veterinary team is there to help if necessary.