“Most people don’t spend any time in their pet’s mouth because they can’t see in there,” says Dr.Jan Bel- lows, DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) of All Pets Dental in Florida and the incoming president of the American Veterinary Dental College. Dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30 teeth.

Owners should be cleaning their pets’ teeth twice a day, especially since plaque builds up every 12 hours. “The big problem is really gum disease in general because of excess plaque and tarter,” says Tiffany Bierer, the health and nutritional sciences manager for Mars Petcare.“If you don’t treat it, it gets worse and worse.” Many animals that have periodontal disease also have kidney and liver disease, as well as other health problems.

Brushing and breath

“Dogs and cats with severe periodontal disease have painful mouths and prevention is far better than a cure.”

Most cat and dog owners don’t brush their pets’ teeth, but they should. “The gold standard is brushing but people don’t know what to do,” explains Dr. Bellows who says pet bad breath “isn’t normal.” Bierer agrees, “Improvements in breath can tell you you’re really doing something good for your pet.” Be sure to use fluoride-free toothpaste too, since fluoride isn’t good for pets. You can also get oral hygiene products from your veterinarian, like dental wipes, which have chemicals to clean teeth.

Dogs and cats should get regular cleanings from a veterinary dentist.The exam should include dental x-rays, tooth-by-tooth inspections and the use of anesthesia to clean teeth below the gum line. “Sixty percent of the tooth is below the gum line,” says Dr. Bellows, who cautions owners from taking pets to “roving dental groomers” who only clean the teeth’s visible surface and don’t use anesthesia.

Dental diet

“Dogs and cats with severe periodontal disease have painful mouths and prevention is far better than a cure,” says Colin Harvey, director of the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), which recognizes pet products, including foods and treats that effectively control the accumulation of plaque and tartar. “Dry foods are very good at helping to clean teeth,” says Bierer, noting a kibble’s textures and shapes promote swallowing. Avoid products, like bones, which can be too hard on pet teeth. Ensuring your pet’s dental health isn’t a luxury. “It’s about the livelihood of the pet,” says Bierer. “It’s about quantity and quality of life.”