Modern dentistry is an important part of human healthcare, and also your pet’s. Poor oral health can lower your pet’s overall quality of life, and is linked to liver, kidney, and heart damage that can affect their health and longevity. Toothbrushing and dental health products can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup, but regular professional dental cleanings are necessary to remove plaque below the gum line and allow a thorough, detailed dental examination.

Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital offers a full suite of dental health care services, including professional dental cleanings. But, how often does your pet need a dental cleaning? That depends on several factors, so let’s dive in and learn more.

Why pet dental health matters

Periodontal disease is the most commonly diagnosed problem in pets, with more than 70% of pets showing early signs by age 3. Disease starts with bacteria left in the mouth after eating. The bacteria coat teeth with plaque, the plaque attracts bacteria to the gum line and hardens into tartar, the tartar attracts more debris, and the bacteria proliferate. Plaque and tartar above the gum line are easily visible, but the invisible plaque below the gum line that leads to gingivitis and progresses to deeper tissue, tooth, and bone damage, is the true problem. Other common pet dental problems include fractures, root abscesses, root or tooth resorption, cysts, retained baby teeth, and unerupted teeth.

As you can imagine, dental disease is painful for your pet. Left untreated, chronic pain leads to decreased quality of life, decreased chewing and playing ability, and behavior changes. In severe disease, untreated mouth bacteria can attack and damage the heart, liver, or kidneys, and reduce the time your pet has with you.

Professional pet dental cleaning basics

A professional pet dental cleaning is key for periodontal disease treatment and prevention, and other dental conditions can be treated at the same time. Identifying and addressing dental changes early—and often—can prevent progression and preserve long-term oral health. 

For your pet’s safety, comfort, and emotional wellbeing, and in accordance with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Veterinary Medical Associations (AVMA) guidelines, we perform dental procedures only under general anesthesia. We start with a thorough pre-anesthetic workup, which may include blood work, urinalysis, chest X-ray, or heart ultrasound, depending on your pet’s age and health history, to ensure your pet is healthy enough for anesthesia. 

Professional pet dental cleaning procedure

Each dental cleaning involves multiple steps to ensure your pet receives comprehensive oral care. The steps include:

  • Scaling — Tartar above and below the gum line is carefully removed using ultrasonic and hand instruments.
  • Polishing — A motorized polisher and special paste remove scratches and smooth the tooth surface to help prevent additional plaque buildup.
  • X-ray — X-rays are taken to reveal pathology below the gum line, where periodontal disease begins, but often goes unnoticed.
  • Comprehensive oral examination — Your pet’s entire mouth and each individual tooth are examined, and the details documented in your pet’s medical record.
  • Treatments and extractions — Painful teeth are usually removed, but alternative treatments, such as root canal therapy or external sealants, can save select teeth. We will always discuss therapy options before treating your pet.

Factors influencing your pet’s dental care plan

Each pet needs an individually customized oral care plan. Annual professional dental cleanings, plus a personalized at-home dental care protocol, are the best strategy for staying ahead of periodontal disease and keeping teeth healthy, although some pets will need professional cleanings more or less often. Frequency depends on the following factors:

  • Breed — Pets with short noses (i.e., brachycephalics), who have crowded or widely spaced teeth and abnormal bites, are prone to faster tartar buildup.
  • Size — Small and toy breeds build up tartar more quickly and often require more extensive oral care.
  • Health conditions — Conditions that affect the pet’s immune system may impact disease progression. Cats can develop oral health conditions, such as stomatitis, that require ongoing treatment.

Oral home care can help keep teeth healthier between professional cleanings, and sometimes may extend the time between cleanings. Toothbrushing is the best option, but must be performed daily—or at least a few times weekly—to be effective. Pets are more likely to accept toothbrushing as a puppy or kitten, but you can train older pets, although they will require  patience. We recommend that you begin brushing your pet’s teeth at home immediately after their professional cleaning, using this fear-free method.

If toothbrushing is too stressful for your pet, try other products designed to reduce oral plaque and bacteria. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations, or visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council website for their list of accepted products

Your veterinary team is your best resource to determine your pet’s ideal professional dental cleaning schedule, and for dental product recommendations. Contact the Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team to schedule your pet’s dental consultation and their next professional dental cleaning.