You may wonder whether your pet really needs dental cleanings. The answer is a resounding yes. The myth that pets keep their teeth clean naturally by chewing is just that. The truth, however, is that most tartar buildup—one of early dental disease’s first signs—occurs below the gumline, and cannot be removed through chewing or toothbrushing. Dental disease is one of pets’ most common medical conditions, and our Town & Country Animal Hospital team wants to help you understand the importance of your furry friend’s annual dental cleanings by explaining dental disease’s causes and signs, and describing our professional dental cleaning protocol. 

Dental disease in pets—more dangerous than you think

Sticky plaque forms on your pet’s teeth only hours after eating. In a few days, plaque becomes cement-like tartar, which traps bacteria in and around the gumline. Tartar buildup can lead to gingivitis, causing irritation and inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissues. Gingivitisthe first gum disease stagecan become more severe and painful over time. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease, infection, abscesses, tooth loosening, and tooth loss. Late-stage dental disease can result in life-threatening organ damage, as oral bacteria can enter your pet’s bloodstream and travel to their heart and kidneys.

Dental disease signs in pets—much more than bad breath

While foul breath can indicate early-stage dental disease, many of pets’ first dental disease signs are easy to miss. In addition to bad breath, the following signs may indicate your pet has dental problems:

  • Brown or yellow tartar buildup on the teeth
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swallowing food whole, rather than chewing
  • Leaving broken crumbs around their bowl after eating
  • Taking food from their bowl to eat somewhere else
  • Blood in their water bowl or on their toys
  • Shying away from being touched near their face

If your pet shows any of these signs, schedule a dental evaluation with our Town & Country Animal Hospital team, so we can assess their oral health, and address any problems.

Regular dental examinations for pets—early detection is essential

Early detection and routine preventive care can minimize dental disease’s impact, and prevent consequences such as pain, tooth decay, severe infection, and tooth loss or surgical removal. At Town & Country Animal Hospital, we provide dental examinations during your pet’s wellness visits. We examine your dog’s or cat’s teeth, provide recommendations for both a professional and at-home cleaning schedule, and inform you of any potential health issues.

Professional dental cleanings for pets—more than toothbrushing

Most pets should receive a professional dental cleaning at least once per year. Some pets may require more frequent cleanings, especially small and brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) breeds, older pets, and those who have been experiencing dental issues. Your pet must receive general anesthesia to enable your veterinarian to perform a thorough dental cleaning. Anesthesia keeps your pet still and pain-free during the procedure, which includes: 

  • Preanesthetic testing — To help us customize your pet’s unique anesthetic protocol and minimize their risk, we perform preanesthetic blood work and urinalysis before their dental procedure. 
  • Premedication — Before we administer your pet’s anesthesia, they receive a calming sedative, intravenous (IV) catheter, and anti-anxiety and pain-relieving medication.
  • General anesthesia — After your pet’s IV catheter is in place, we induce anesthesia and secure their airway with a breathing tube. We carefully monitor your pet’s electrocardiogram (EKG), blood pressure, temperature, and breathing. General anesthesia prevents your pet from experiencing pain or anxiety.
  • Dental X-rays About 60% of the tooth structure lies below the gumline. X-rays are essential for detecting underlying diseases such as abscesses, fractures, bone loss, and root resorption. By reviewing your pet’s dental X-rays and examining their mouth while they are calm, we can detect periodontal problems and create a treatment plan. 
  • Teeth cleaning and polishing — We fully clean all sides of each tooth, and scale and polish the entire tooth—above and below the gumline—to remove plaque and tartar.
  • Dental procedures — If your pet’s X-ray reveals a pain-causing problem, such as periodontal bone loss or a tooth root abscess, we may call you during the procedure to recommend tooth extraction or other dental procedures. If extractions are necessary, we use nerve blocks and pain medications to keep your pet comfortable and pain-free. 
  • Recovery monitoring — After your pet’s dental cleaning is complete, we closely monitor their entire anesthesia recovery, checking their vital signs as they begin waking, and keeping an eye out for discomfort signs. After your pet is fully awake and able to walk, we discuss their procedure with you, and recommend oral care maintenance, such as regular toothbrushing, that you should perform until their next regularly scheduled dental cleaning. 

Annual professional dental cleanings not only provide your pet with clean teeth and fresh breath, but also protect them from dental disease’s serious adverse health effects. Contact our Town & Country Animal Hospital team to schedule your pet’s dental examination.