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The Importance of Pet Dental Care

Dental disease is the most common disease seen by veterinarians: 70–85% of pets over the age of 2 have some form of dental disease.

pet dental care

Dental disease is an often-overlooked threat to the comfort and health of your pet. Because dental disease often has few readily apparent signs, bringing your pet in for a wellness examination is the only way to ensure detection. Following this exam, your veterinarian may recommend a particular dental cleaning schedule, oral care routine, or special treatment based on your pet’s dental health needs.


Dental disease is the most common disease seen by veterinarians: 70-85% of pets over the age of 2 have some form of dental disease. Here are some signs that your pet may have dental disease:

  • Bad breath
  • Yellow, brown, or discolored teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Swollen mouth, jaws, or gums
  • Doesn't play with chew toys as often
  • Pain when eating


Just like people, pets develop periodontal infections and tooth root abscesses. Pets cannot communicate when they have a tooth ache so dental disease in pets often progresses to a very serious health problem.

Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the roots of the teeth and the bony structures that cradle the teeth. The bacterial infection eats away the bone and causes the teeth to loosen and eventually fall out. In addition, the mouth becomes a hazardous source of infection to the pet as the bacteria spread through their blood to their internal organs. Your pet’s heart, kidneys, and liver are especially susceptible to infections that originate from infected mouths.


Every wellness examination performed by one of our veterinarians includes an oral exam to determine the health of your pet’s teeth and gums. Dental disease is evaluated according to a standardized rating system:

Grade 1: The gums are red and inflamed from tartar and infection (gingivitis), but the infection has not yet spread to the tooth root and bony structures (periodontitis). The gums may be tender, but the tooth is not painful. The condition is completely reversible with a dental cleaning and home care.

Stage 1 Dental Disease
Stage 1 Dental Disease

Grade 2: The infection has spread from the gums to the deeper tissues and is starting to destroy the bone around the tooth. The gums are tender and there may be mild pain in the tooth. An odor may be noticeable. The condition is still reversible with regularly scheduled sub-gingival dental cleanings and home care.

Grade 3: The infection has eaten away at the gums (receded gums) and is destroying the bone around the tooth. The gums are tender and may bleed when touched. There is pain in the tooth and surrounding area. An odor is noticeable. The condition may be irreversible, but if the tooth is still solid, the infection can be controlled with regularly scheduled sub-gingival dental cleanings and a rigorous home care schedule.

Stage 3 Dental Disease
Stage 3 Dental Disease

Grade 4: The infection has receded the gums away from the tooth root and destroyed the bone around the tooth. There is significant pain in the tooth and surrounding area. An odor is noticeable. The condition is usually irreversible for the tooth, which must be extracted in order to alleviate pain and eliminate the infection in the gums and surrounding bone.

Stage 4 Dental Disease
Stage 4 Dental Disease


Dental Anesthesia

When your pet’s veterinarian makes the diagnoses of dental disease, they will recommend anesthesia for a dental evaluation and cleaning. Anesthesia is required in pets for a proper evaluation and treatment of dental disease. The anesthesia will prevent your pet from experiencing anxiety or pain and will allow your pet’s dental team complete access to their teeth. A tube will be placed in the trachea to prevent inhalation of infected debris.

Though very small, anesthesia is a very real risk for dogs and cats, just as it is for humans. At AMH, we take care to further reduce the risks of anesthesia by following a proactive protocol to assess our patients and monitor their care throughout the dental procedure, including pre-anesthetic testing, inhalant gas, electronic monitoring, and intravenous fluids.

To decrease the anesthetic risk for your pet we perform pre-surgical blood work for each of our patients prior to placing them under anesthesia. Our dental team monitors each patient throughout the dental procedure to ensure the patient is responding appropriately to the anesthesia. We use very safe anesthetics and monitor your pet for any adverse reactions as they recover.

Please remember, the adverse effects of bad teeth on the overall health of the pet greatly outweigh the anesthetic risk.

Most pets will go home the same day after their dental cleaning. It is normal for pets to be groggy and either sleepy or restless for 12-24 hours after the procedure due to the anesthetic and pain medications. Their appetite and behavior will return to normal in 1-2 days. Many owners then report that their pets feel so much better than before the procedure!


Dental Equipment and Staffing

Our hospital is well equipped for dentistry procedures with ultrasonic cleaners, drills, high speed polishers, and digital dental radiography (X-rays).

A well-trained staff of registered veterinary technicians and advanced veterinary assistants assist the doctors.



At Animal Medical Hospital and 24 Hour Urgent Care, full mouth radiographs (x-rays) are included with every anesthetic dental evaluation. Without radiographs, we are only able to evaluate the external surface (enamel) of the exposed portion of the tooth (crown). However; in dogs and cats, the majority of dental disease is found either in the center of the tooth (the pulp chamber) or in the roots under the gum line. Some of the more common findings on routine x-rays are root fractures, unerupted or embedded teeth, bone loss, resorptive lesions, tumors, and abscesses.


pet dental hand scaling

The dental evaluation and cleaning starts with hand scaling the tartar off and doing a thorough examination of the teeth, checking for loose teeth, fractures, and using a dental probe to search for pockets. Pockets are areas where the gums have pulled away from the tooth and tartar and infection have accumulated.


pet dental charting

Observations about each tooth are recorded on special dental charts- essentially creating a “map” of the pet’s mouth. All abnormalities and treatments performed are recorded for future reference and in order to measure the improvements made between treatments.


ultrasonic cleaning

Next the teeth are thoroughly cleaned using an ultrasonic dental cleaner to loosen and remove all tartar and debris from the teeth and under the gums.


pet dental polish

The now sparkling clean teeth are polished with a high speed polisher to smooth the surfaces and slow future tartar accumulation.


Finally, a foaming fluoride treatment is applied to protect and strengthen the teeth.


Once the teeth are completely dry, a sealant is applied which binds electrostatically to tooth enamel. This creates an invisible barrier that helps prevent plaque-forming bacteria from attaching for up to 2 weeks. This gives the gingiva enough time to heal from the cleaning before the owner starts on the daily oral health care routine at home.


Advanced Treatments

In most cases, the dental cleaning will treat reversible cases of dental disease. However, in the event that the physical exam and dental xrays reveal a more serious concern, your veterinarian will contact you to discuss treatment options. Commonly performed treatments include:

  • Tooth extractions are performed on teeth that are irreversibly diseased. Teeth that are devitalized (lost blood supply), have infections that have caused substantial damage to the surrounding bone structure, and painful teeth are recommended for extraction. Extractions can vary from simple loosening and removal of single rooted teeth to a true surgical extractions of teeth with multiple or large roots.
  • Gingival flaps to provide access to treat or clean the roots under the gumline and to close oronasal fistulas or other defects in the gingiva caused by dental disease.
  • Bonding of defects or breaks in the enamel with a light cured acrylic bonded sealant. Bonding will immediately seal exposed dentinal tubules which are filled with nerve endings. The seal will help to prevent infection, decreases pain, and speeds up the healing response.
  • Treatment of periodontal pockets with Doxirobe Gel. A single dose of this antibiotic gel treatment can reduce periodontal pocket depth, increase reattachment and reduce gingival inflammation.


Home care alone will not remove tartar or treat infection, but it can greatly reduce future tartar accumulation and reduce the frequency of future dental procedures. It will also keep your pet’s breath smelling fresher!

It is important to keep in mind that plaque (the soft film that develops on teeth composed of food particles, saliva, and bacteria) calcifies into hard tartar within 24 hours. This means that home care must be provided at least ONCE DAILY to be effective.

Options for Home Care include:

Hills Science Diet Tartar Control Food
Science Diet t/d Food is specially formulated to prevent tartar and clean the teeth while your pet eats their dinner! Science Diet t/d is a very effective preventative if used as the pet’s sole diet on a regular basis. The food works by decreasing the particles available for tartar formulation and also by mechanically rubbing the tartar off the teeth as the pet chews.

Oravet Chews
OraVet Dental Hygiene Chews are dissolvable, dual-action chews made for daily use to help clean and protect your dog's teeth and gums. The dense, chewy texture mechanically scrubs away existing plaque and oral calculus as your dog chews it. Each dental chew contains delmopinol to prevent bacteria from adhering to your pup’s teeth. The efficacy of this compound has been proven effective in numerous clinical trials.

Tooth Brushing
Brushing the teeth every day with a special pet toothpaste (do not use human toothpaste) is the best way to reduce tartar and gingivitis. Most pets love the taste of the pet toothpaste and can be taught easily to accept brushing. A few pointers for success:

  • Brushing must be done every day to be effective, so find a way to make it part of your daily routine. Maybe you can brush your pet’s teeth every night before you brush your teeth?
  • Start slowly so your pet does not become afraid or resistant. Start with paste on your finger, be gentle, and work your way up to a finger brush, tooth brush, or spinner brush.
  • As your pets accepts it, brush the outside surface of all the teeth, gently lifting the lip to get the teeth in the back. It is not usually possible or necessary to brush the inside surface (by the tongue) as this surface builds less tartar than the outside.
  • Make it fun and give lots of praise. Pretty soon your pet will look forward to it every day!

View the following video for a demonstration:

Depending on how well you are able to care for your pet’s teeth at home, and on your pet’s predisposition to building tartar, most pets will need professional dental cleanings every few months or years to maintain good dental health. The veterinarians at Animal Medical Hospital & 24 Hour Urgent Care will examine your pet’s teeth at every visit and make individualized recommendations based upon your pet’s needs.

"I love this office and I feel that my questions and my cat’s needs are always well met by the friendly and professional staff."