February is Pet Dental Health Month, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is reminding pet owners to care for their pets’ teeth just as they care for their own.

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 and 70 percent of cats show signs of periodontal disease by the time they’re only three years old.

And this isn’t just an issue of doggie halitosis. According to Dr. Brook Niemiec, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist, ”Periodontal inflammation and infection have been linked to numerous problems including heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, emphysema, liver disease, osteoporosis, pregnancy problems, and diabetes.”

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 the new year with better oral care for your best friend. What can you do to ensure your dog’s chompers are in good shape?

The American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) recommends bringing your dog to a veterinarian for a dental exam and then scheduling regular checkups so your vet can monitor the progress of your dog’s dental health routine. In addition, the AVDS recommends beginning a dental care regimen at home to keep your dog’s teeth clean and free from plaque and tartar.

Speak with your vet to see which of the following preventative treatments he or she recommends for your pup’s pearly whites.

Brush Up

Most people brush twice daily without ever brushing their dog’s teeth. Brush your pup’s teeth at least weekly to keep them clean. (Yes – you, your dog, a toothbrush.) Look for brushes designed for dogs, including those that fit on your fingertip that be accepted more readily, and don’t forget toothpaste for dogs. It’s unsafe to share your Crest since dogs do not spit out the paste, and chicken and beef-flavored paste will make brushing much more appealing to your dog anyway. Be sure to press the paste down into the bristles, so your dog doesn’t simply lick it off the brush.

Introduce brushing to your dog by massaging your dog’s gums with your finger; next do the same with 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 per side. Offer plenty of praise afterward and make it part of your dog’s daily or weekly routine.

See step-by-step instructions on how to teach a dog or cat to accept a daily tooth brushing in this video from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Beyond the Brush

If your dog resists a toothbrush, there are a variety of products available to make cleaning your dog’s teeth easy. These include anti-plaque water additives, which are added to your dog’s water bowl, dental cleansing pads, which are wiped on your dog’s teeth and gums, and oral hygiene gels which are placed on your dog’s gums. A gauze pad wrapped around your finger and rubbed gently on your dog’s teeth also works!

New products on the market include Teef and Remedy+Recovery Plaque Re-Lease Easy Pinch Tablets for Dogs, both of which are powder additives added to your dog’s water bowl.

Teef is made with human-grade ingredients (a soluble fiber, a vegan protein, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and a vitamin), and claims to clean teeth like a “molecular toothbrush,” even below the gum line.

Remedy+Recovery Plaque Re-Lease Easy Pinch Tablets for Dogs claims to have been clinically proven to reduce plaque, tartar, and halitosis in 14 days.

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 diet. Look for products that have received the Veterinary Oral Health’s Council seal of acceptance, which shows they meet standards for reducing plaque or tartar.

Play Away Plaque

Chew and rope toys not only entertain your dog but also promote dental health by stimulating gums and keeping teeth clean. Look for toys specifically created to promote dental health, such as Kong dental toys.

See a list of recommended vet-recommended dental toys for dogs and cats.

The Scoop:

Visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s site for a number of helpful resources for caring for your dog’s teeth.

Thank you to Vicki on flickr for the photo of Logan.