When was the last time you examined your pet’s mouth for periodontal disease? If it’s been so long that you can’t remember, or if you can’t recall checking your pet’s pearly whites and gums, you are not alone. Unfortunately, most pet owners are unaware of the risks associated with a lack of dental care for their pets, which no doubt is the reason why almost all pets show dental disease signs by age 3. Periodontal disease is the most commonly diagnosed dental disease in pets, and untreated, will progress as the pet ages. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and our team at Metropet Veterinary Clinic is taking a bite out of dental disease by sharing everything pet owners need to know about professional dental cleanings for pets. 

What causes dental disease in pets?

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 gum line. Tartar is nearly impossible to remove with brushing alone, and tartar that is not periodically removed by your pet’s veterinarian builds up and can lead to gingivitis—the first gum disease stage—and cause irritation and inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissues. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease, infection, abscesses, loose teeth, and tooth loss. Late-stage dental disease can result in life-threatening organ damage, when oral bacteria enter your pet’s bloodstream and travel to their heart and kidneys.

Why do pets need regular professional dental cleanings?

Think about it. You brush your teeth at least twice a day, and get your teeth professionally cleaned every 6 to 12 months. Like humans, pets need regular professional dental cleanings, especially if their teeth are not regularly brushed at home. We closely examine your pet’s teeth as part of their annual wellness exam. 

However, 60% of dental problems exist under the gum line and X-rays are essential for visualization. Plaque and tartar below the gumline can lead to infection and cause damage to the jawbone and the tissues surrounding the teeth, but dental X-rays can reveal issues below the gum line, and show any serious tooth root damage. A professional dental cleaning includes scaling tartar from the tooth surface, above and below the gum line, and any treatment, such as tooth extractions, that X-rays show are required. 

How often do pets need professional dental cleanings?

Most pets require professional dental cleanings once a year. However, some pets 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 dental disease risk 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 more easily accumulate.
  • Age — Older pets, especially pets who have not received consistent preventive dental care, are at increased dental disease risk.

What is included in a pet’s professional dental cleaning?

Now you know why your pet needs professional dental cleanings, but you may still wonder what happens during the teeth cleaning process. Here is a breakdown of a comprehensive, professional dental cleaning:

  • Anesthesia administration —  Anesthesia is critical for professional dental cleanings. Pets don’t understand how dental cleaning works, and won’t hold their mouths open when asked, so anesthesia is necessary to ensure everyone’s safety, keep the pet completely still to obtain X-rays and perform a thorough oral exam and cleaning, and to eliminate pain. A thorough pre-anesthetic evaluation, tailored anesthetic protocol—including safe medications and techniques—and continuous monitoring make anesthesia safe and effective for your pet’s dental procedure. 
  • X-rays X-rays help your veterinarian evaluate the tooth roots, where most dental problems hide. Common issues, such as fractures, infections, cysts, unerupted teeth, and bone loss, can be seen only on X-rays. 
  • Deep cleaning and polishing — Tartar deposits above and below the gum line are removed with an ultrasonic scaler. Once the tartar is removed, the teeth are polished to remove microscopic abrasions and create a smooth surface that repels future plaque buildup. Then, fluoride is applied to further delay future tartar formation.
  • Complete oral exam — After reviewing your pet’s dental X-rays and examining their mouth while anesthetized, your veterinarian will record your pet’s problems and create a  plan to monitor your pet’s oral health.
  • Diseased teeth extraction, if necessary — Teeth severely affected by periodontal disease are generally extremely painful and must be extracted, which will make your pet feel much better.
  • Discharge instructions — After your pet’s procedure, your veterinarian will explain what to expect from your pet after their anesthesia, how to care for them following their surgery, when you should schedule their next professional exam and cleaning, and how to start an at-home dental health routine. 

Help us celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month by assessing your pet’s current at-home  dental care routine and identifying ways to better prioritize their dental health. Contact our Metropet Veterinary Clinic team to schedule your pet’s next dental exam and professional cleaning.