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  • Writer's pictureDr. Allie

Pet Dental Health Month Tips

Pet Dental Health

Keeping your pet’s teeth clean and healthy is an important part of

their overall wellness. Many pets, especially small dogs and cats,

suffer in silence from poor dental health. Think about it - we brush

our teeth multiple times daily, while very few dogs or cats' teeth are

brushed regularly (we will discuss tips on this later!). Can you

imagine how much tartar would build up if we didn’t brush our teeth

for a week or even a month? Many dogs and cats go without regular

dental hygiene for YEARS. Yuck!

As your pet’s teeth build up tartar, bacteria is also accumulating.

Infection can penetrate into the gums and into the bloodstream, and

can even be life threatening. Abscesses can form on the tooth root

that can go unnoticed. Severe decay and rotting teeth are extremely

common. If you have ever had a toothache, you know that these dental

ailments can be incredibly painful!! Many owners don’t realize how

much their dog is suffering in silence, until their diseased teeth are

removed and the infection is treated. The most frequent comment I hear

from owners after we perform a long-needed dental procedure is “Wow!

It’s like I have a new dog!.”

So how do we fix these dental issues? Your veterinarian can perform a

dental evaluation and cleaning under general anesthesia. Under

anesthesia, the veterinarian can adequately assess the health of all

the tissues of the mouth, as well as look for any cavities, gum

disease, or other abnormalities. Dental radiographs (x-rays) will also

be taken. The veterinarian will then decide if there are any teeth

that need to be removed (extractions). Once these teeth are removed,

the gums will be sutured, then the vet will clean the teeth with an

ultrasonic scaler to remove the tartar buildup and polish the teeth.

The pet will then be woken up from anesthesia with a clean, healthy

and happy mouth. Oftentimes, the pet may be sent home with pain

medication or antibiotics.

Frequently Asked Questions:

“How can my dog eat if you pull out so many teeth?”. Dogs and cats are

actually very good at eating without teeth. They are able to use the

hardened surface of their gums where the teeth were removed, but very

often most dogs don’t really chew their food very well anyways. Of

course, softening their food is sometimes helpful, but not always


“Does my dog have to be put under general anesthesia? Isn’t this

risky?” - While there is always a small risk to anesthesia (just like

in humans), veterinarians perform these procedures daily and the risk

is very low. Your vet will perform pre-surgical bloodwork and perform

a full physical exam first to ensure that your pet is healthy enough

to be put under anesthesia. Anesthesia is required to perform a full

comprehensive dental exam, as well as to perform any extractions and

cleaning of tartar.

“Can my dog get a non-anesthetic dental cleaning?” - Non-anesthetic

dental cleanings are not recommended by veterinarians for a few

reasons. First, most non-anesthetic dentals are not performed by

veterinarians, which can be risky for the pet if the pet develops any

medical problems during the procedure such as difficulty breathing,

bleeding, or severe anxiety. Second, with an awake pet, it is

impossible to evaluate the structures of the teeth that are under the

gumline. So while the teeth may appear to be clean, the important

structures underneath the gums have not been evaluated for decay or

infection. Lastly, in the state of California, non-anesthetic dentals

performed by non-veterinarians are considered to be practicing

veterinary medicine without a license and are actually illegal.

So now that we covered the importance of anesthetic dental cleanings,

how can I keep my pet’s teeth healthy in between procedures? The

number one way to keep your dog or cat’s teeth shiny and clean is with

daily brushing. Of course, most pets will not tolerate this and may

need a lot of patience and training. First, allow your pet to get used

to you touching their teeth with just your finger. Place a small

amount of tasty pet toothpaste (do NOT use human toothpaste as it can

contain toxic sweeteners that can be deadly to dogs) on your finger

and allow the dog to lick it off. Next, try rubbing the toothpaste

onto their teeth. Do this every day until they are completely

comfortable. Slowly work up to using your finger to “brush” all of

their teeth, then you can move on to the toothbrush itself. This whole

process can take weeks to even months, but any brushing that you

accomplish is definitely better than nothing! Other suggestions to

help with tartar accumulation include dental treats and water

additives that help break down plaque.  Follow these tips to keep your

pet’s dental health in tip top shape!

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