February is Pet Dental Month. While perhaps not as much fun as some other pet-related commemorations—”National Puppy Day” and “Hug Your Dog Day” come to mind—Pet Dental Month is an important awareness campaign for anyone who cares for a furry companion. Let’s talk about why.

Dental disease is the most common health condition in adult dogs, with most dogs over the age of three showing some signs of issues. Dental disease can not only cause pain and discomfort for your pet, it’s also been linked to heart disease. That makes dental disease something that all dog owners should be on the lookout for, but did you know that your dog’s breed and genetics can play a role in their dental health?

Small breed dogs, such as Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, are more likely to have dental issues than other dogs. Why, you ask? One reason is the size of their mouths. All dogs, regardless of their breed, have forty-two adult teeth. That’s a lot to fit into a little mouth! This can cause overcrowding, which makes it easier for food to get stuck between their teeth. We probably don’t have to tell you that daily flossing (or any flossing, for that matter) is not a viable option for dogs, so plaque builds up over time and leads to dental disease.

Short-faced breeds like Pugs, English Bulldogs and Boston Terriers have a similar problem. Their short jaws can cause both overcrowding and misalignment of the teeth, which can make them harder to keep clean.

Other breeds like Yorkies and Greyhounds have genetic predispositions for certain dental issues, and problems can start appearing at a very young age. Maltese and Poodles are often slow to lose their baby teeth. While we appreciate their attempt to hang onto puppyhood for as long as possible, this pattern can cause dental issues for them as well.

Dogs such as Shelties and Dachshunds have long, narrow muzzles, which does them no favors when it comes to dental health. Often times, they can have uneven bite patterns or teeth that rotate outward.

What does all of this mean for you? It could be that your dog’s breed or genetic make-up are putting your furry friend at even greater risk for dental issues. The more you know about your dog, the more proactive you can be about their care. But no matter the breed, vigilance and regular dental care can help keep problems in check. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Look for signs of trouble. These include bad breath (hard to miss that one), discolored teeth, inflammation of the gums, abnormal chewing, reduced appetite or pain in the mouth.
  • Be diligent with at-home care. Brush your dog’s teeth daily—or as often as they will tolerate—and give them appropriate chew toys or treats.
  • Visit your veterinarian. Regularly check-ups and professional cleanings are critical to your dog’s overall dental health.

Staying on top of your dog’s dental care will help keep their teeth clean and healthy—during Pet Dental Health month, and beyond!