Dental health is a very important part of your pet’s overall health.  Your pet’s teeth and gums should be checked at least once yearly on physical exam.  Regular dental cleanings are an important way to keep your pet healthy.  Dental cleaning includes scaling (to remove dental plaque and tartar) and polishing, similar to the process used on your own teeth during your regular dental cleanings. If your pet has a tooth that is decaying, has excessive root exposure, or is causing your pet pain, extraction of the tooth may be necessary.  You should consider a dental cleaning for your pet if they have any of the following:

  • Bad breath
  • Broke or loose teeth
  • Retained baby teeth
  • Tartar build up
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping their food
  • Refusing to eat
  • Oral pain (often shown by pawing at the mouth)
  • Bleeding gums
  • Swelling in or around the mouth

One of the most common concerns of a dental procedure is that your pet will have to be anesthetized.  When you go to the dentist, you know that what’s being done is meant to help you and keep your mouth healthy. Your dentist uses techniques to minimize pain and discomfort and can ask you how you are feeling, so you accept the procedures and do your best to keep still. Your pet does not understand the benefit of dental procedures, and he or she reacts by moving, trying to escape, or even biting.

Anesthesia makes it possible to perform the dental procedures with less stress and pain for your pet. In addition, anesthesia allows for a better cleaning because your pet is not moving around and risking injury from the dental equipment.

Although anesthesia will always have risks, it’s safer now than ever and continues to improve so that the risks are very low and are far outweighed by the benefits. Most pets can go home the same day of the procedure, although they might seem a little groggy for the rest of the day. The American Veterinary Dental College does not recommend dental cleanings without anesthesia because they do not allow cleaning or inspection below the gumline, where most dental disease occurs, and can result in injury to the pet or the person performing the procedure.

Prevention of the most common oral disease in pets consists of frequent removal of the dental plaque and tartar that forms on teeth that are not kept clean. Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep their teeth healthy between dental cleanings, and may reduce the frequency or even eliminate the need for periodic dental cleaning by your veterinarian. Daily brushing is best, but it’s not always possible and brushing several times a week can be effective. Most dogs accept brushing, but cats can be a bit more resistant – patience and training are important.

There are many pet products marketed with claims that they improve dental health, but not all of them are effective. Talk with your veterinarian about any dental products, treats, or dental-specific diets you’re considering for your pet, or ask your veterinarian for their recommendation. (