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February Is Pet Dental Health Month

Updated on September 4, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

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Too Bad It's Whispered From The Mountaintops

It started back in 1994, sponsored by the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and some commercial sponsors. But in recent years there hasn't been a lot of hoopla about National Pet Dental Health Month, except at the retail level.

Pet supply stores usually have specials on pet dental health products including food, treats, toys, and supplies. Some veterinary clinics observe the month by offering discounts on dental exams and supplies.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (https://www.avma.org) observe the month, as well. They’ve had dental health related videos and podcasts for you to access, they've invited you to submit pictures of your pets’ pearly whites, and they encourage their member veterinary practices to offer brochures and promotions.

But all year long, veterinarians do a good job of promoting pet dental health because it's a big deal. Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition afflicting cats and dogs, and by age three, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs show clinical signs.

Periodontal disease is more than a lousy smile. It affects the tissue and structure supporting the animals’ teeth, is irreversible and since the untreated infection allows bacteria to migrate through the bloodstream, the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys can be affected.

Contributing factors to poor dental health include canned food, table scraps, and injuries, especially among dogs. They often catch thrown objects and chew on rocks and sticks, which can crack teeth and cut or scrape gums, opening a wound and creating a pathway for bacteria. The thing is: periodontal disease is completely preventable.

To take the disease head on the AVDS recommends a three-pronged attack: a routine physical exam, including a dental check-up, a home maintenance program and regular follow-up checks by your vet.

The home maintenance program starts with regular brushing and continues by providing dental chew toys and treats. Some contain enzymes to help remove plaque, while others scrape the teeth and massage the gums.

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An important footnote about brushing

It's important to use toothpaste that's been formulated for pets. Pet toothpaste uses enzymes to attack the residue on your pet's teeth, is designed to be bushed onto the teeth for scrubbing, and to be left there so the enzymes can do their job.

Toothpaste formulated for humans is a cleanser, designed to be brushed onto the teeth for scrubbing, and then to be rinsed off. Human toothpaste can also irritate your pet's stomach. Finally, some human toothpaste brands are formulated with the artificial sweetener zylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs and cats.

There's no shortage of products that support good oral health

Veterinarians and pet supply stores (most of which have month long sales on dental products) carry enzymatic products you can spray onto food or directly into the pet’s mouth, and solutions you can add to drinking water to help fight plaque. Meaty bones have gained in popularity and availability, and owners who provide these to their dogs report excellent results. As with all chew items, your dog should not be left alone while gnawing on meaty bones.

Make pet dental health a family affair

Learn the symptoms of periodontal disease, and teach the kids to watch for them, too, hoping to catch the disease before it causes problems throughout the body. The first symptom is usually bad breath.

Of course, at some point just about all dogs have bad breath, such as after dumpster diving or snacking from the cat’s litter box. But if the bad breath is chronic, that’s not a condition unto itself, but a symptom that should be brought to the attention of the veterinarian.

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There are other conditions that can cause bad breath, such as more serious problems in the mouth, or respiratory or gastrointestinal issues, or disease involving internal organs. Most often, though, it’s a problem with the teeth or gums.

Other signs include red, swollen gums, localized swelling over an individual tooth, tilting the head when eating, dropping food from the mouth, pawing at the jaws, refusing hard food, treats or toys, and depression.

Problems can occur above and below gum lines, where you can't see them, so an annual dental exam by your veterinarian is a good idea. Periodontal disease can lead to life threatening and costly health problems…but it’s preventable.

It All Starts Here

Do you brush or dog's or cat's teeth?

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Perhaps the formal observance of National Pet Dental Health Month, started a generation ago, has served its purpose and may be why there isn’t a lot mentioned about it anymore. I know that in my daily dealings with pet owners, a large percentage of them are aware of the importance of their pet’s dental health and take steps to address it.

Veterinarians have been doing a good job of stressing the issue all year long, not just in February, and pet supply stores all have substantial space devoted to dental health products. But, it’s worth acknowledging the annual observance if for no other reason than to once again stress the importance of paying attention to your pets’ teeth.

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Nell, good to see you. On this side of the pond, it wasn't until the 90's that we started paying attention to our dogs' dental health. Prior generations only gave biscuits to help clean the teeth, hoping it would freshen their breath. We weren't aware of the consequences of untreated periodontal disease, and people would scoff at the idea of brushing the dog's teeth... if the subject ever came up. Different ball game now. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi, I never cleaned our dogs teeth, but we always gave them bones, this was back in the day when bones were deliberately sold for dogs in the butchers. these days it seems to be only chewy toys so they are no good for dogs teeth. If I did get another dog I would take a lot more care of their teeth now, great info! nell

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for stopping by, travmaj. You might try the finger toothbrush instead of the conventional brush. Your dog might be more comfortable with your finger in his mouth than with a foreign object. You could introduce the concept to him during play, and once he's comfortable with your fingers in his mouth, start using the finger brush. Good luck!

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Good advice here - our dog has dental sticks etc but is not happy about brushing. Might have to try again...Thanks for this.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Nice to see you, FlourishAnyway. I'm not sure how much dental benefit there is to the cat's gnawing on the bristles, but hopefully enough to prevent a complete extraction down the road. Your experience with the other cat should be a cautionary message to other cat (and dog) owners.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      After I caught my cat, Stella, gnawing on the bristles of the family toothbrushes that were stored in a container on the bathroom sink, I decided to just let her have them. (We now keep our own toothbrushes in a drawer where she cannot reach them.) She has fresh minty breath because she makes a daily habit of it. The brushes get inspected periodically for damage to be sure they won't hurt her. I don't discourage her habit because we had another cat who had dental disease and had to have all of his teeth removed.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Mary, nice to see you. You should remind Baby that B.O. can't keep the promise that white teeth and fresh breath make. It's good that you do her teeth, though, which is far more important than a bath. Thanks for stopping by, and for the vote and share.

      Hi Audrey, glad you agree and took the time to comment. Thanks for stopping by...twice :)

      Hi Jackie, no surprise that you didn't brush your dog's teeth years ago...not many owners did. Widespread brushing is a fairly recent phenomenon...less than a generation old. Chew toys help, certainly, but they shouldn't be considered a substitute for brushing. Brushing and the availability of appropriate chew toys are a winning combination. Glad you stopped by, thanks for the vote and share.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      opps big!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I have never done this but then I haven't had a dog in years and thought they just needed something to chew on to clean their teeth. Well now I know and if and when I get another I will certainly brush its teeth while it is young to teach it to like it. Up and shared.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      This is a bug deal! Brushing is so important!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      I started brushing my Schnauzer's teeth when she was quite young. She has never minded having it done. I wish I could say that about her bath! She hates a bath.

      Good info here for us pet owners. I voted up, and shared,

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      You're a good pet Mom, Heidi! It seems that you were brushing your pets' teeth before it became popular. Remember, it wasn't too long ago...maybe the late 90's...that people finally stopped rolling their eyes at the notion of brushing a dog's or cat's teeth. There are those who still do roll their eyes, but far more owners are taking their pets' dental health seriously. Great to see you...thanks for the votes and share!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      I've brushed our dogs' teeth for years and years after one of our dogs had some continuing issues. You're right, it is a BIG deal. Investigating a major dental problem in one of our dogs led us to discover he had osteosarcoma. Just as dental plaque in humans can signal more serious conditions, it's the same for dogs. We've also got to remember that their jaws are their "hands." Great review of the issues with pet dental. Voted up, useful, interesting and sharing!