By Melisse Conway, D.V.M.

Like humans, dental care is an important aspect of pets’ overall health. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, which is a perfect time to schedule your pet’s dental health checkup and annual oral health cleaning.

Skipping proper oral health care can lead to chipped or lost teeth, making it hard for your pet to chew his food and be nourished, but it can have a wider impact on your pet’s health. Poor dental health can cause bone loss in the jaw, which can mean that your pet is more likely to fracture his jaw.

From brushing at home to annual exams, there are steps to take to address your pet’s oral health at home and with a veterinarian:

Annual exams. Like regular annual check-ups, pets should have dental cleanings once a year. During the cleaning, pets are put under anesthesia and given a full mouth cleaning, polish and x-rays – similar to visiting the dentist. Vets use anesthesia to properly clean the pets’ teeth while protecting the pet from swallowing or biting harmful products.

Lay groundwork. Pet owners should lay the groundwork for future dental care when pets are puppies or kittens. As early as three-months-old, pet owners should brush their pets’ teeth once a day with a toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste. During the puppy stage, owners should also look for a delay of puppy teeth growth, which may lead to extractions to prevent disease down the road.

 Watch for changes. Some pets become irritable when they have dental problems, and any changes in your pet’s behavior should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. Look for signs like bad breath, broken teeth, abnormal chewing, loss of appetite, bleeding or swelling.

Pet-friendly products. Dental chews, water additives and a dental-friendly diet are among the products good for helping to maintain dental health. The Veterinary Oral Health Council reviews products to determine if they are pet-safe. Approved products will have a label on its packaging, and the Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of products on their website.

Know the breed. Some breeds are more prone to dental problems than others. Usually, small breeds have more dental issues because of their smaller mouths, which cause overcrowding of the teeth. Greyhounds and Boxers are also prone to having more problems. Research breed-specific issues or ask your veterinarian about potential problems associated with your pets’ breed to understand potential health issues your pet may face.

In recognition of National Pet Dental Health Month, SPCA Tampa Bay Veterinary Center in St. Petersburg is offering 15 percent off all dental services provided in February 2019. Visit or call 727-220-1770 to make an appointment for your pet.

Melisse Conway, D.V.M. is the 

medical director of SPCA Tampa Bay Veterinary Center in St. Petersburg, where she pra

ctices her passion of shelter medicine, preventive care, and soft tissue surgery. She has extensive experience as a shelter and community clinic veterinarian.