MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For pets, just like their owners, problems with their teeth can sometimes signal serious health issues.

“Disease can go to the kidneys and the heart and the brain and really cause a lot of damage,” explained Dr. Jan Bellows of the American Veterinary Dental College.

Experts say brushing is best, but that can be difficult for many dogs.

“It’s kind of a problem where she has such a small mouth. It’s tough to get a brush in there,” said dog owner Lori Macaione.

Your vet can help, but dental cleanings can require general anesthesia, which can be expensive.

There are a number of dental products available at pet stores to help owners keep their pets teeth healthy, but according to Dr. Bellows, they don’t always deliver on what they promise.

“A lot of times the product will say it will do something, but there’s no research that shows it actually will,” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates medical claims made on some pet products, but unless the item contains a drug or promises to cure a disease, experts say it is up to consumers to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

According to Dr. Bellows, some products designed to remove plaque may actually hurt a dog’s teeth.

“Because they’re too hard to chew on,” he said.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council is a scientist-run group that reviews research submitted by manufacturers and awards a seal of approval to products that work.

“Look on the back of the container and look for a Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal. If you see one it’s a product considered safe and effective,” said Dr. Bellows. “These are products that have been shown to be effective by independent studies, research that shows they will control plaque and will control tartar.”

The VOHC reviews research submitted by manufacturers. Only 29 products have the seal so far. So if you’re wondering if your pet needs the proper help for their teeth, the breath will tell you.

“If your pet’s breath doesn’t smell like roses, there’s a problem,” said Dr. Bellows.

Brushing a dog’s teeth may be tricky, but experts say if you start them young, many will become more tolerant. It is cheaper than using special products or going to the vet and it will keep them healthier.

Click here for a current list of approved products.

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