Most Pet Parents Overlook This Critical Component of Their Furry Friend's Health

Video: How to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth (Without Them Freaking Out About It)

It’s often overlooked, but it’s so important that even the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, has deemed February as “National Pet Dental Health Month.” Why, might you ask, is an entire month devoted to the health of our pets’ dental hygiene? The teeth are a fairly small segment of our pets’ overall anatomy, but when you look at your dog’s mouth as a window into his body–a window into his overall health and well-being–perhaps you’ll realize they’re much more important than you think.

85% of Pets Have Periodontal Disease by Age 3.

Does your dog have rotten breath? If you answered yes, more than likely the reason is because plaque and tartar are building up along the gum line. Much like in the human mouth, bacteria colonize to form the film on teeth that we know as plaque. When plaque comes into contact with the minerals that naturally exist in saliva, tartar forms, and this tarter is too hard and firmly attached to the teeth to be brushed away.

Plaque and tartar buildup is the number one cause of periodontal disease, and periodontal, a disease that, in many ways, signals the beginning of system wide problems. Cardiac disease, liver disease and kidney disease have all been linked to the bacteria found in our pets’ mouths.

So, if dental health is so important, what can we do to keep our pets’ mouths healthy? Remember the “3 D’s:” D aily brushing, D ental chews, and D octors appointments.

The “3 D’s” That Protect Your Pets’ Teeth and Gums

1. Daily Brushing

You may initially roll your eyes at this and think “there’s no way my dog would ever allow this.” There are a wide range of products on the market created specifically to help you with this problem. For example, there are numerous types of pet tooth brushes, from ones that look very similar to ours, to others that fit on the tip of your finger. There is also a wide variety of toothpastes with different textures and flavors to entice your dog’s “distinguished” palate, with flavors ranging from chicken liver to bubble (gum?). It takes time to train our pets to do anything, but if you are dedicated and consistent, it can become a part of you and your pets’ daily health routine. Studies have shown that brushing three times a week was adequate to maintain healthy teeth and gums, but daily brushing was needed to control existing gingivitis.

2. Dental Chews

Chewing on a proper dental chew can reduce plaque by up to 69%. This may not be as good as brushing, but it certainly beats doing nothing. There are a variety of products on the market for both dogs and cats, but not all are created equal. Chewing provides abrasion against the tooth, removing plaque and tartar. Some chews and biscuits include the chemical hexametaphosphate, which prevents the mineralization of plaque into tartar. Others are simply made to provide numerous surfaces to rub against the teeth and provide the mechanical benefit of chewing. A full list of the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s approved products can be found here .

But remember to use your judgment when choosing the right chew for your pet. An aggressive chewer could swallow chews whole, which could lead to an intestinal obstruction. Too many treats could lead to weight gain. And finally, pets with diseased teeth could break their teeth on chews that are too hard. So choose wisely for your pet’s specific needs, and always monitor your pet with any toy to ensure their safety.

3. Doctor’s Appointments

Finally, it’s important to make doctor’s appointments to check in with your pets’ dental health. Just as human dentists require us to visit them twice yearly for cleanings and check-ups, this is also a good plan to adhere to for your pet. As all mouths are not created equally, cleaning may not be required that often for every dog, but yearly dental prophylaxis for dogs over 3 years is a great way to help maintain the health and well-being of your beloved friend. Proper dental cleanings are done on an anesthetized pet, in a veterinarian’s office, and involve multiple steps including removing visible tartar, probing the periodontal sockets, “planing” the roots, which means scraping tartar from below the gum line, polishing the enamel, disinfecting the mouth, and treating with a fluoride sealer or plaque repellant.

Do not be fooled by companies offering “anesthesia-free dentistry,” as there is no way to accomplish all of the aforementioned steps — especially cleaning beneath the gum line, where periodontal disease occurs — in a pet that is awake and wiggling.

If you aren’t currently following a healthy-mouth regimen for your pets, make next month, “National Pet Dental Health Month,” the month you start. Here’s a great video with easy, step-by-step instructions on how to teach a dog or cat to better tolerate daily brushing.

MZX_6893-Edit (2) Dr. Katy Nelson is the mother of five – two human and three animal – kids, an avid nutrition and fitness enthusiast, and an admittedly rabid Louisiana sports fan. She is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA., as well as the host and executive producer of “ The Pet Show with Dr. Katy ” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. A Certified Veterinary Journalist (CVJ) accredited by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists ( ASVJ ), Dr. Katy is the Animal Health Reporter for ABC7 News, and serves as “Dr. Pawz” on WTOP Radio. Dr. Katy is also a founding partner of , a national health and fitness initiative aimed at getting people healthy alongside their dogs, and serves as a media and marketing consultant for numerous pet-related companies and media outlets.

A lover of all animals, Dr. Katy carves out time for many charitable organizations in the DC area and beyond. She is also the co-executive producer on “ Tell Them I Am Kind ,” a documentary set to air on the PBS Broadcasting network in 2015. The documentary tells the story of the family of Catherine Violet Hubbard, one of the 20 children killed in December of 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and their mission to build an animal sanctuary in her honor.

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