Dental disease is a common condition for pets, and by 3 years of age, most pets have periodontal disease to some degree. Dental care is an important—yet often ignored— component of a pet’s overall health and wellbeing. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, which was created to highlight the importance of comprehensive dental care for pets, and the team at Greenfield Veterinary Clinic is celebrating by explaining what professional dental cleaning entails, how it benefits your pet’s dental hygiene, and how often your pet’s teeth should be cleaned. 

Why is dental care important for pets?

Dental problems don’t only affect people. In fact, nearly 85% of pets have some form of dental disease by age 3. That means dental care is as critical for pets as it is for humans. Dental disease can have negative consequences for your pet’s health that extend far beyond bad breath or discolored teeth. This progressive disease is caused by plaque and tartar accumulation below the gumline. The hidden bacteria damage the tooth’s supporting structures, resulting in pain, infection, and inflammation, and ultimately bone and tooth loss. In severe cases, circulating bacteria enter the bloodstream, and permanently damage the kidneys, liver, and heart muscle. 

Why does my pet need their teeth professionally cleaned?

Regular teeth cleaning is the best way to prevent dental disease, along with daily brushing of your pet’s teeth and dental treats. While toothbrushing can reduce the accumulation of tartar buildup on your pet’s teeth, the bacteria trapped under the gumline cannot be reached by a toothbrush alone. 60% of dental problems exist under the gumline and require X-rays to be seen and a professional cleaning to be resolved. Benefits of professional dental cleanings include:

  • Minimizes pain — Regular dental care helps ensure your pet avoids the painful consequences of oral disease. 
  • Saves you money — Preventive care—like regular cleaning—is less expensive than paying for complex dental repairs or extractions that could be needed because of a lack of dental care. 
  • Better quality of life — Maintaining your pet’s dental health reduces their risk for disease-related complications (e.g., chronic pain, and kidney, heart, or lung damage) and improves their overall quality of life. 

Why does my pet need anesthesia for their dental cleaning?

Anesthesia is necessary to perform a thorough oral exam, take diagnostic dental X-rays, clean teeth below the gumline, extract or treat diseased teeth, and treat periodontal problems without pain or stress for the pet. While the thought of putting their pet under anesthesia makes some pet owners nervous, we take every precaution to ensure your pet’s safety before, during, and after their dental procedure. 

Before we clean your pet’s teeth, we perform a thorough physical examination and blood work to ensure your pet is healthy enough to undergo general anesthesia. Your pet will be sedated and intubated to ensure a clear airway is maintained and to administer oxygen and anesthetic gas. They may receive intravenous fluids throughout the dental procedure to maintain their blood pressure and hydration status. 

What does my pet’s dental cleaning include?

During your pet’s dental cleaning, the veterinarian will examine every detail of their mouth and teeth, looking for any obvious signs of dental disease. The veterinarian will use specialized instruments, such as an ultrasonic cleaner, to remove hard tartar, and may need to perform further treatment, such as tooth extractions, if your pet’s tooth roots are damaged. A complete professional pet teeth cleaning includes: 

  • Scaling — Tartar is removed from the tooth surface, above and below the gumline.
  • Polishing — Each tooth is polished to remove microscopic etchings that the scaling creates and where bacteria can adhere.
  • Probing — Your pet’s gums are examined for pockets that could indicate periodontal disease.
  • Flushing — An irrigation procedure is performed below the gumline to flush away bacteria and debris.
  • Rinsing — The final step is an antimicrobial rinse to help reduce oral bacteria.

How often does my pet need a professional dental cleaning?

Most pets require professional dental cleanings once a year. However, some need more frequent cleanings and related dental procedures. Factors that may influence the appropriate cleaning interval include:

  • Size — Small breeds, such as poodles, Yorkshire terriers, and Chihuahuas, are at increased risk for dental disease because of their small mouths.
  • Breed — The facial structure of brachycephalic (i.e., flat-nosed) breeds, including boxers, French bulldogs, and pugs, often causes overcrowded teeth where plaque can accumulate more easily.
  • Age — Older pets, especially pets who have not received consistent preventive dental care, are at increased risk for dental disease. 

Regular teeth cleanings ensure your pet’s teeth, mouth, and gums remain healthy and fresh, and minimize the risk of dental disease. If you have questions about your pet’s dental hygiene, contact the team at Greenfield Veterinary Clinic to schedule an appointment.