You value your own dental health, but may not realize that your pet’s dental health is equally important. You go to the dentist regularly for your teeth to be cleaned, so why would you think your pet’s teeth would magically stay clean without regular professional care? Well-meaning pet owners often neglect their pet’s dental care, likely because they don’t think to investigate their pet’s teeth and gums, which helps explain why nearly 70% of pets have some degree of dental disease by age 3.

Without regular veterinary dental cleanings, your pet will suffer with more than bad breath, which is only one small problem—their overall health also can seriously suffer. Some pet owners are hesitant to schedule a dental cleaning because they do not understand what the procedure entails, and they are concerned about their pet being “put under.” Our team at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Groves wants to put your fears to rest with our in-depth explanation of a professional dental cleaning, and the benefits for your pet.

Consequences of dental disease in pets

Without a proactive approach, your pet is at a high risk of dental disease. After pets eat, food is left behind in their mouth, creating a breeding ground for bacteria that becomes a sticky film called plaque. Plaque that is not removed from your pet’s teeth and gums through daily toothbrushing quickly hardens into tartar, which is nearly impossible to remove without a professional cleaning. Poor dental hygiene can lead to the following serious health conditions:

  • Gingivitis – Dental disease begins when plaque develops under the gum line, trapping bacteria and causing painful gum inflammation. 
  • Tooth loss — Without proper dental care, the structures that support your pet’s teeth can become damaged or infected and eventually your pet’s teeth will loosen and fall out.
  • Organ damage — Bacteria can enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, damaging essential organs, including:
    • Heart — Bacteria can travel through the bloodstream to the heart and lead to endocarditis and valvular disease in dogs and cats. Additionally, periodontal disease can increase your pet’s risk of heart disease. 
    • Lungs and kidneys — The liver and kidneys are especially susceptible, because infection and inflammation in these organs can lead to systemic infection, which interferes with their function.

Optimal frequency of pet dental exams 

Most dental disease damage takes place below the gum line, so most veterinarians recommend a professional cleaning at least once a year to identify and address dental disease in the earliest stages when treatment and preventive measures can best minimize damage or delay disease progression. Some pets may require more frequent cleanings for various reasons, including:

  • Age — The older your pet, the more likely they are to quickly accumulate tartar because their teeth have gone through a lifetime of wear and tear. Older pets also often have chronic conditions or other issues that weaken their immune system and fighting the oral bacteria becomes more difficult. 
  • Size  Small pets are more likely to have dental disease because their teeth overcrowd their small mouths. They also have more delicate jawbones and shallower tooth roots, which can lead to an increased periodontal disease risk.
  • Breed — Flat-faced breeds (i.e., brachycephalic), such as pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, and Persian cats, typically have crowded teeth and a misaligned bite, and tartar accumulates more quickly. 
  • Chewing habits — Heavy chewing pets damage their tooth enamel and require more frequent cleanings.
  • At-home dental care — Pets whose teeth are not cleaned regularly at home are more likely to develop dental problems. 

Professional pet dental cleaning overview

At your pet’s annual professional dental treatment, your veterinarian will fully examine your pet, provide preanesthetic testing, premedicate, perform general anesthesia, take X-rays, clean and polish your pet’s teeth, perform needed procedures, and carefully supervise recovery. Professional dental cleanings are the only way to ensure good dental health, because most problems cannot be visualized in an awake patient, and most steps are unsafe and not thorough without general anesthesia.

At-home dental care for pets

Professional dental cleanings are extremely important, but they must be supplemented with regular at-home toothbrushing. Twice-daily toothbrushing using pet-safe dental products certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) is the gold standard of at-home pet dental care. 

Take control of your pet’s dental health to ensure their health and happiness. If you are concerned about your pet’s dental hygiene, or tired of their bad breath, contact the Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Groves team and schedule a wellness appointment.