Did you know February is Pet Dental Month? It is! And there are many reasons why pet dental health is important. To help get the word out to families about the importance of basic pet dental care, February was designated National Pet Dental Month by the American Veterinary Medical Society, the American Veterinary Dental Society and Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

Bad breath in a dog is often dismissed simply as “doggy breath.” In fact, it may signal periodontal disease, which is the most common ailment suffered by dogs and cats over three years old.

Just as with people, plaque forms in a pet’s mouth when microscopic bits of food combine with bacteria and build deposits on the teeth. So your pet’s bad breath and discolored teeth are probably an indication of the start of periodontal disease.

"Most people think of dental disease as a local disease just affecting the mouth. Unfortunately this is not true. We have learned it can affect overall health," says Donnell Hansen, DVM, a veterinarian whose practice is limited to dentistry at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Minnesota.  "It's important to note, most pets will not show signs of oral pain, but that's not to say there aren't problems. Even though there are no signs, there are problems. About 80 percent of pets are suffering from periodontal disease."  She adds:  "Families really notice a change in their pets' behavior for the better, after we do a cleaning or extractions."

So what should you do?

Start with a soft toothbrush and flavored toothpaste made for pets. Human toothpaste contains detergents that may cause stomach upset.

Go slowly and be very positive, using food treats if necessary. Place the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gum line. Brush in a circular motion, with a firm stroke away from the tooth. Try to reach all tooth surfaces, but concentrate on the outside surface.

For puppies and kittens, introduce the brush at around 6 months — and be consistent. Animals like routines, so making brushing a habit it will be easier on both of you.

In addition to brushing, foods and chew toys can help maintain your pet’s dental health. Look for treats that contain sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP), which lives in the saliva for up to 12 hours, breaking up plaque. You can also look for foods or treats with a seal of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council — a VOHC seal.

For more information, check out the American Veterinary Medical Society.

Happy brushing!