February is National Pet Dental Health Month. That’s right – pets have teeth, too. This awareness month highlights the significance of dental disease in cats and dogs, and how it affects their health and well-being.

If you haven’t checked your pets’ teeth recently, now is the time to take a peek. Odds are good that your Fido and Fluffy have dental disease.

Three-quarters of dogs and cats have periodontal disease by age three. This is the most common form of dental disease in pets. As the years progress, so do the incidence and severity of periodontitis. Bad breath is a telltale sign of this disease.

There are many kinds of painful dental diseases that affect our pets. Other common conditions include fractured and abscessed teeth, discolored and dead teeth, retained baby teeth or unerupted adult teeth, and oral ulcers or masses.

Although plaque and tartar can form on the outside of the tooth, of greater concern is when this bacterial matrix settles under the gumline and invades structures that hold tooth roots in place. That’s periodontal disease. And it is significant because it destroys the structures that hold the teeth in the mouth. Periodontitis can also cause disease in other body systems, and it’s painful.

Fortunately, periodontal disease in pets is preventable. Home dental care routines are the mainstay of periodontitis prevention. However, if Fido or Fluffy already has dental calculus and oral disease, home dental care will not fix the problem. Your pet will first need professional treatment by a veterinarian with dental expertise to establish a healthy mouth. A combination of home dental care and professional dental care is the best way to achieve long-term oral health. That’s no surprise, as human dentists tell us the same thing to keep our pearly whites in tip-top shape.

Here are some helpful hints to get you started with Fido’s and Fluffy’s home dental care:

  • Oral check-up. Bring your pet to a veterinarian with dental expertise for an oral check-up. If Fido’s or Fluffy’s mouth hurts, they may resist your dental care routine. Painful teeth should be addressed before embarking on a home dental plan.
  • Just do it. Most pet owners would like to start a home dental care plan for their pet, but they procrastinate. Just make it part of your routine. It’s easy and doesn’t take long. Home dental care only helps your Fido or Fluffy if you actually do it, virtually every day.
  • Veterinary Oral Health Council. This independent group of veterinary dental researchers and veterinary dentists review pet dental products. Those products that successfully control plaque or tartar receive their seal of approval. Finding the VOHC-seal on dental care packages for your pet is assurance of the product’s efficacy.
  • Tooth brushing. Both inexpensive and easy, tooth brushing prevents periodontal disease in pets. Several secrets will help make this a success: (1) Soft-bristled toothbrushes for humans work well for medium and large dogs. Your veterinarian can recommend a special tiny toothbrush for little Fido and Fluffy. (2) Use toothpaste made specifically for dogs and cats. They come in yummy flavors like chicken and seafood. (3) Train your pet to accept this tooth-brushing routine. Ask your veterinary team to teach you how to succeed. (4) Be careful with fingerbrushes. The rubber bristles can be overly stiff. Also, meaty-flavored toothpastes may cause Fido to mistake your finger for a treat. Ouch! (5) Toothbrushing costs only pennies per day, yet it is the gold standard to prevent periodontal disease in pets. Just do it!
  • Dental diets. You feed your pet anyway, so why not choose a diet designed to prevent periodontal disease? Despite common belief, regular dry food does not promote clean teeth or healthy mouths. However, diets approved by the VOHC are a terrific option. They are specially formulated to scrape soft plaque off teeth every time Fido or Fluffy eats.
  • Dental treats. Dental treats are fun, tasty, and oh-so-easy. Every pet parent loves to give treats. And the recipient is usually happy to oblige! For best results, choose treats with the VOHC-seal on the package. Remember that even dental treats are caloric, so keep an eye on Fido’s and Fluffy’s waistline.
  • Water additives. This is an interesting option for daily home dental care. There are various formulations, but most are available as concentrates and are added to the pet’s drinking water. Be aware, though, that the efficacy of many pet water additives is questionable because they are not approved by the VOHC. If you choose water additives for Fido’s and Fluffy’s home dental care, look for the VOHC-seal on the package.
Fortunately, periodontitis is a preventable disease. The more you do at home, the happier and more comfortable your furry friend will be.