Cats and dogs eat diets similar to humans, and their teeth are prone to the same disease and decay process that can quickly take place without professional care. Imagine if you only sporadically brushed your teeth and never visited the dentist—you’d likely be in a lot of pain in a short time. Likewise, most pets start developing dental disease by age 3, but professional dental cleanings can help keep their mouth healthy.
The Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team recommends annual examinations and cleanings for most pets, but our recommendations confuse some pet owners, who wonder why our costs are higher than services offered by groomers or mobile dentistry practices. To help pet owners better understand why pets require professional cleanings and why they are more valuable than other dental services, we offer this guide to clear up any confusion about your pet’s dental care.
Why do pets need professional dental cleanings?
All pets require professional dental cleanings to prevent and treat dental disease, which is caused by bacteria, plaque, and tartar that build up on teeth and below the gum line, and lead to gum, tooth, and jaw damage. Pets are born with sparkly white teeth, but most have early disease signs, such as bad breath or red gums, by 3 years of age. Daily at-home brushing can slow disease progression, but cannot reach the nooks and crannies like a professional cleaning—think about how clean your teeth feel after you brush versus after a dentist cleaning.
You should first clean your pet’s teeth before appreciable gum or tooth damage occurs, usually at 1 or 2 years of age. Then, yearly cleanings are ideal, but the frequency will vary for individual pets. Over a few months or years, untreated dental disease can lead to the following:
- Chronic pain — Diseased teeth are extremely painful, and can ruin what your pet previously regarded as their favorite time—mealtime—and reduce your pet’s quality of life.
- Organ damage — Untreated oral infections can spread through the bloodstream and permanently damage other organs, including the liver, heart, kidneys, or lungs.
- Limited function — Dental disease often results in loose or missing teeth, which reduces your pet’s ability to play, eat, and chew.
What is a professional pet dental cleaning?
A professional pet dental cleaning is performed by your veterinary team while your pet is anesthetized. Anesthesia is the only way our team can clean your pet’s teeth deeply enough to prevent and treat dental disease, physically examine their entire mouth, take X-rays for otherwise invisible views, and perform treatments or extractions without causing pain or stress. All pets undergoing anesthesia are thoroughly screened to ensure they are in good health for the procedure, and monitored closely using advanced equipment and trained, credentialed staff.
During a professional pet dental cleaning, our team performs the following:
- Ultrasonic and hand scaling — We remove tartar above and below the gum line.
- Polishing — We smooth the tooth surface to remove micro-scratches and help reduce future plaque.
- X-rays — We examine each tooth root individually to evaluate bone health.
- Complete oral examination — Our team examines and documents every detail of your pet’s oral health.
- Treatments — We perform tooth extractions, root planing, and other treatments to complete your pet’s dental cleaning
What is not a professional pet dental cleaning?
You may be tempted by other services claiming to clean your pet’s teeth without anesthesia, and with a lower price tag. These procedures are not the same as a professional dental cleaning, and may cause your pet more harm than good. The following are not substitutes for a professional cleaning:
- Toothbrushing — A groomer may provide this service, but only daily toothbrushing has a positive effect. A single brushing will not remove existing tartar or treat existing disease.
- Non-anesthetic dentistry — Some services may offer tooth scaling and polishing without sedating or anesthetizing your pet. This can be tempting, but the service does not clean below the gum line or diagnose hidden tooth root problems that are visible only on X-rays. In addition, these procedures can be painful and extremely stressful for an awake pet.
Non-anesthetic dentistry services are considered harmful for pets, and do not provide the same care as a professional cleaning. For these reasons, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have published position statements against these services, and our hospital offers dentistry only for fully anesthetized pets.
In addition to regular professional pet dental cleanings, our hospital recommends daily oral home care to keep the teeth and mouth healthy between cleanings and to help prevent dental disease from taking hold. Daily brushing is ideal, but our Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team can recommend other products that may be useful for your particular pet.
Contact us to schedule a dental consultation or cleaning appointment, or for additional recommendations regarding your pet’s oral health care.