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Dental Health Article

Author: Dr. Lacy Gilmer, DVM

Does your dog or cat have breath that could knock you over with one pant from that furry mouth? While most people believe that “dog breath” is normal for your canine, and even feline, companion, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. While most pets don’t have minty fresh breath, halitosis ( really stinky breath), is a symptom of periodontal disease which, left untreated, can cause painful tooth infections, abscesses, gingivitis, fractured teeth, and a host of other  problems. 

Most pets are really good at disguising their pain, so owners who do not routinely brush or check their pets teeth (especially those teeth way in the back) do not notice signs until the pet stops eating, has blood in their drool, or when their face swells due to a severe infection. Once these have occurred, the only treatment is surgical intervention to anesthetize, clean,  x-ray, and probably extract the diseased teeth. If the problem has been going on for long enough, or if the problem is severe, most or all teeth may need to be extracted. This can be expensive and potentially risky depending on the overall health of the animal, as those procedures can require hours under anesthesia.  The bacteria from their teeth can also travel to the rest of the body, including the valves of the heart and urinary systems and cause systemic inflammatory issues.

To avoid these problems, yearly or bi annual check ups with your veterinarian are very important, as their teeth are examined thoroughly and any tarter, gingivitis, or halitosis is marked, and recommendations are made on dental care and cleanings.  With no or minimal tarter, your vet will likely recommend daily brushing to keep those pearly whites nice and healthy. When there is mild to moderate tarter and/or gingivitis, your vet may recommend a dental cleaning at that point to prevent the severe issues listed above. 

Pet dental cleanings involve anesthesia, because cleaning under the gumline is imperative (just like when you get your teeth cleaned at the dentist), but unlike you or me we cannot ask an animal to sit still and say “ah!” when sharp instruments are in their mouths, as they can injure themselves with movement.  While there are some risks associated with all anesthesia, in most cases the benefits of dental care far outweigh the slight risk from anesthesia, and your vet will perform a thorough physical exam and pre anesthetic bloodwork to ensure Fluffy or Fido is a good candidate prior to the procedure. If you are nervous about anesthesia, be sure to ask your vet what monitoring they use and ask to take a tour of the dental suite beforehand- most clinics are more than happy to show off their practice and all of the state-of-the-art monitoring equipment.

“Anesthesia free” dental procedures that are offered at some groomers and veterinary places are not able to clean beneath the gumline to prevent periodontal disease, nor are they able to x-ray to look beneath the gumline to identify problems before they become painful and expensive to treat. Thus your “cheap” dental cleaning is nothing more than polishing the surface, is not as long lasting, and can actually result in more expensive care later on down the road.

Almost all of my clients cannot believe the increase in energy levels following a dental cleaning. I’ve even had some people tell me they thought their pet was just getting older, but after having their teeth cleaned it’s like having their old exuberant, happy pet back.  Just check out these amazing before and after pictures below!


Before and after a dental cleaning of a cat with moderate periodontal disease: notice the red and inflamed gums and tarter accumulation

Before and after dental cleaning with some extractions from a dog. He’s feeling much better now without the diseased teeth causing infection and pain!

When choosing your pet’s dental care, it’s important to learn about a comprehensive veterinary dental cleaning, also known as a professional dental cleaning, and its long term benefits for your pet’s overall health. You can call your veterinarian, or visit for answers to all of your questions and resources for making the right choice for your pet. 


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