Does your dog clear the room when he yawns? Really bad doggie breath may be a sign of tooth decay and oral disease. In fact, The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that 80 percent of dogs show signs of oral disease by the time they’re only three years old. And this isn’t just an issue of doggie halitosis. Poor oral care can lead to serious health problems like kidney, liver, or heart disease.  

That’s why the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is dedicating the whole month of February to pet dental education. Celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month by kicking off 2009 with better oral care for your best friend. What can you do to ensure your dog’s chompers are in good shape? Start with the tips below, courtesy of the AVMA, and include regular visits to the vet to have your dog’s teeth examined.

Focus on the Fangs. Check your dog’s teeth regularly for signs of tartar build-up, discoloration, chipping (resulting from cavities) or changes, and bring these to your vet’s attention. Do a breath check too. Know it’s worth a trip to the vet if your dog’s breath is unusually bad.

Brush Away. Most people brush twice daily without ever brushing their pet’s teeth. Brush your pup’s teeth at least weekly to keep them clean and fresh. Yes – you, your dog, a toothbrush.

To introduce tooth brushing to your dog, stock up on poultry-flavored toothpaste (never share your Crest), get ready to offer plenty of praise and treats, and take it one step at a time. Start by massaging your dog’s gums with your finger, next do the same with a taste of pet toothpaste on your finger. When your dog accepts or even begins to look forward to this routine, introduce a toothbrush to his teeth, starting with short intervals and working up to about 30 seconds a side.

Serve Up the Crunch. Foods and treats with a crunchy abrasive texture and dental chews or bones help control plaque and tartar buildup, so include them in your dog’s daily diet.

Play away plaque. Chew and rope toys not only entertain your dog, but also promote dental health by stimulating gums and keeping teeth clean; better smelling breath is another plus.

The Scoop:

Learn more about proper pet dental care from the American Veterinary Medical Association

More tips on brushing your dog’s teeth

Thank you to Laura and Gabby for the photo.