Mrs. Griffith sighed as she gently separated her youngest daughter and oldest Labrador Retriever. She stepped between them and over a discarded pacifier to look me directly in the eye. “Really?” she asked. “Do you brush yourdog’s teeth every day?”

It was a moment of truth. She didn’t ask me what I recommend. She asked me what I do.

The best thing for her dog’s dental health is a daily tooth brushing with pet-safe enzymatic toothpaste. Unfortunately, the problem with my being a real person — one with a working spouse, young children, two jobs and a few hobbies — is that what I know to be “the best thing” and what I actually do at home are occasionally not the same. Mrs. Griffith had a lot on her plate at home, too, and when she asked me for honesty, my credibility was on the line. I wasn’t going to lie to her, and I’m not going to lie to you either.

I know exactly how dental disease affects pets. I know that the dental tartar you see slowly building up on your pet’s teeth is about 80 percent bacteria and that it damages the gums, the bone beneath and the ligaments that hold teeth in place. This bacteria can gain access to the blood stream and infect vital organs like the heart, lungs and kidneys. I also know that advanced dental disease hurts; it makes pets feel sick. Daily brushing is the best deterrent.

But like 95 percent of pet owners, I don’t regularly brush my dog’s teeth, even though I know it’s the best thing for his health. Still, that doesn’t mean dental health isn’t on my mind. Here’s what I do instead:

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