The AVMA sponsors a National Dental Health Month every February to emphasize the importance of oral health care for pets. Dental health should be an important part of your pet’s health program.

Dental problems can be caused by other health issues. Your pet should have a yearly check up for early signs of dental trouble. Veterinary dentistry can include cleaning, filing, extractions, repairs of teeth and any other oral care concerns.

Cavities are not as common in pets as they are in people, but pets can have, among other things, broken teeth and roots, periodontal disease, abscesses or infections, cysts or tumors and misalignment of teeth.

If your pet has bad breath, sensitivity around the mouth or has lost weight, has yellow or brown deposits on the teeth, bleeding, red or inflamed gums, loose or missing teeth, paws at his mouth or seems to have trouble chewing it could be a sign of dental problems.

A dental exam starts with an exam of your cat’s or dog’s mouth by a veterinarian. Since much dental disease occurs below the gum line where it can’t be seen x-rays may be needed to determine exactly what is going on. A thorough dental cleaning is similar to the cleaning of your teeth at your regular dental checkups. It includes scaling to remove dental plaque and tartar and then in followed by polishing. Any dental problems can be attended to then or another appointment scheduled for later.

The most common problem in both cats and dogs is periodontal disease. Your pet can develop this by the time it is three years old. Without early detection and treatment, it will continue to get worse and can cause pain and serious problems. The kidneys, liver and heart can be affected.

It starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gum line is easily removed, but below the gum line can cause infection and damage. Treatment involves a thorough cleaning. X-rays can determine the severity of the disease.

Removal of dental plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth is the one thing you can do to prevent periodontal disease. Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way to keep his teeth healthy. Daily brushing is best, but not always possible.

However, even brushing a few times a week is helpful. With patience and training most dog’s will let you brush their teeth. Cats, not so much.

Have your vet check your pet’s teeth before you start brushing them. Your pet may need a cleaning or dental treatment before you start. Follow any recommendations that your vet gives you.

You will need a baby toothbrush or pet toothbrush the right size for your pet. A small washcloth will work if your pet won’t let you use a toothbrush. Use only a tooth paste made especially for pets. It comes in different flavors so you can find one that your pet likes.

Let him get used to the brush and toothpaste before your start. Praise and reward him for letting you brush his teeth. It may take a while before he is comfortable with the process. You can ask your vet to demonstrate the proper way to do it.

Even if this month is National Pet Dental Month, dental health should be a part of your pet’s daily routine all year.

The Pittsburg County Animal Shelter is located at 1206 N. West Street in McAlester. The hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday. The phone number is 918-423-7803. The adoption fee for a dog is $20 and $15 for a cat. All have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.

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