Dental disease is the most commonly diagnosed medical problem in companion pets and impacts most pets by 3 years of age. If not addressed early and often, dental disease will progress and cause your beloved pet chronic pain or widespread infections that can shorten their life. Because oral health deeply impacts overall wellbeing, the Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team strongly encourages all pet owners to provide their pets with consistent dental care, which should include a home-care regimen and professional dental cleanings performed by our veterinary team. 

What is pet dental disease?

Dental disease (i.e., periodontal disease) in pets is similar to gum disease in people—plaque builds up on the teeth, attracts bacteria, and gradually hardens into tartar. Eventually, tartar and bacteria invade below the gum line and attack tooth roots, the jaw bone, and tissues holding your pet’s teeth in place. This painful process can ultimately result in tooth loss and deep bacterial infections that may spread through the bloodstream to your pet’s heart, lungs, or kidneys. Pain diminishes your pet’s quality of life, and severe disease that results in organ damage shortens the time you have together.

What is a professional pet dental cleaning?

A professional pet dental cleaning can prevent and treat your pet’s dental disease. During the cleaning, our veterinary staff does the following:

  • Scales and polishes teeth
  • Cleans below the gum line and in deep gum pockets
  • Takes oral X-rays
  • Performs and documents a complete oral examination 
  • Removes diseased teeth and sutures gums at extraction sites

Once plaque hardens into tartar, only a professional cleaning can remove the yellow-brown debris and associated bacteria and restore the tooth to good health. Oral X-rays may be required to fully evaluate your pet’s mouth and determine the necessary course of action, such as extracting diseased teeth, which removes a source of infection and pain and helps keep nearby teeth healthier by preventing bacterial spread.

How is a professional pet dental cleaning different from other services?

A professional dental cleaning is performed under general anesthesia by a trained veterinary team. Your groomer can offer teeth cleaning services that consist of only a toothbrushing, and cannot remove existing tartar or correct more extensive disease. Some pet services offer awake, non-anesthesia tooth scaling and polishing, which is extremely stressful for most pets, unsafe for the pet and the person performing the service, and does not address the actual underlying disease. For these reasons, most veterinary medical associations do not recommend anesthesia-free dentistry.

How often does my pet need a professional dental cleaning?

We recommend all pets visit our hospital for an annual or biannual wellness examination, which includes examining the teeth to determine whether a cleaning is warranted. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) dental guidelines recommend cats and small dogs have their first dental cleaning at 1 year old, and large dogs at 2 years old. After that, the frequency of dental cleanings will vary by the individual pet and your veterinarian’s recommendation. Small dogs under 25 pounds, and dogs with short noses (i.e., brachycephalic) often require biannual cleanings, while medium and large dogs may need cleanings every year. The frequency for cats is highly variable, depending on their individual genetics.

Are frequent professional pet dental cleanings safe?

Many pet owners are concerned about the safety of annual anesthesia for their pet, but anesthesia actually makes dental cleanings safer by reducing your pet’s stress, ensuring they remain still, and protecting their airway from fluids. Anesthetic complications are rare, and we use a process designed to ensure your pet’s safety. We screen every pet prior to anesthesia using blood work to establish their baseline health, which helps us formulate an individualized anesthetic protocol. A dedicated, credentialed veterinary technician monitors your pet’s vitals throughout the procedure and ensures a smooth recovery. Our team uses sharp instruments to clean your pet’s teeth, places delicate X-ray plates inside their mouth, and may surgically extract teeth—for all these reasons, your pet must be under general anesthesia for their comfort and everyone’s safety.

How can I extend the time between my pet’s cleanings?

Daily toothbrushing at home using a pet-safe toothpaste is the best way to extend the time between professional cleanings. Acclimating pets to brushing takes time, but most will accept the process if you go slowly and keep their experience positive. Other dental products, such as chews, diets, wipes, sprays, and water additives, serve as adjuncts, but do not completely replace brushing. Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website to learn about safe, effective pet dental products.

Maintaining your pet’s oral health not only keeps those pearly whites whiter and breath fresher, but is also paramount for their overall wellbeing. Contact us to schedule a dental consultation or to book a professional dental cleaning package with the Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team.