Pet Dental Health Month

February is National Pet Dental Health Month and a great time to start regularly brushing your furry friend's teeth.

Many pet stores and veterinarians' offices sell toothpastes and tooth brushes specifically for dogs and cats. Dr. Katherine Kling, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, Illinois, said we should think of our pets' teeth similar to how we think of our own.

"Just as we can't expect mouthwashes or healthy, crunchy food to remove all of the plaque from under our own gum lines, similarly there is nothing so successful in removing plaque as consistent brushing and yearly professional cleanings for cats and dogs," Dr. Kling said. "Choose a pet-approved toothpaste in a flavor your pet likes. Never use human toothpastes, because pets swallow toothpaste and we don't want them to ingest fluoride on a regular basis. It is in fact the brushing itself that disrupts the plaque biofilm and slows the progression of dental disease."

Dr. Kling recommends toothbrushes approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council and said it's also safe to use a soft-bristled toothbrush approved by the American Dental Association, such as a toothbrush made for children.

Pet owners should aim to brush their pets' teeth every day.

"Rawhide chews, dog treats, water additives and other products can complement a home dental care program that centers on tooth brushing," Dr. Kling said. "Tooth brushing should be the mainstay of your home dental care plan."

Some pets may not be amiable to having their teeth brushed.

"If you are considering beginning to brush, but have not had a recent cleaning, it may be safest to start by letting your pet lick toothpaste from the toothbrush. This way, your pet develops a positive association with tooth brushing. Then, begin a regular regimen of brushing following a professional dental cleaning," Dr. Kling recommends.

In some cases, consistent tooth brushing is not a workable option for certain pets and owners.

"Yearly professional cleanings are still going to help in these situations. Water additives, gels, and treats may help as well. The products most likely to help slow the progression of gum disease are those with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal," said Dr. Kling.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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How to FLOSS

  1. Pull 18 to 24 inches of dental floss from the floss dispenser.

  2. Wrap the ends of the floss around your index and middle fingers.

  3. Hold the floss tightly around each tooth in a C shape; move the floss back and forth in a push-pull motion and up and down against the side of each tooth.

How to BRUSH

  1. Place the toothbrush at a 45°angle along the gum line. Move the toothbrush in a back and forth motion, and repeat for each tooth.

  2. Brush the inside surface of each tooth, using the same back and forth technique.

  3. Brush the chewing surface (top) of each tooth.

  4. Use tip of brush to brush behind each tooth — front and back, top and bottom and up and down strokes.

  5. Be sure to brush your tongue to remove odor-causing bacteria.