The “Good” Word by Dr. Carol Good – Rockford Animal Hospital

*Professional dental cleaning, When, Why and How is it done? – Part 1)*

I can still remember the first time I talked to a pet parent about scheduling a professional dental cleaning for their dog. This was about 30 years ago when I was a newly minted veterinarian fresh out of veterinary school. They looked at me and started chuckling. They thought I was kidding. After all, who had ever heard of such a thing and how in the world could it be done? Well, thankfully, now when I bring up the need for a dog or cat to have a professional dental cleaning, most owners give it serious consideration. However, they still have questions about the when, why and how it’s done.

Why do pets still need professional dental cleaning if they chew on objects regularly or even get their teeth brushed? Well, dental bacteria and food build up happens, even with our best efforts. Consider this- You probably brush your teeth at least once a day. And yet, your human dentist recommends professionally cleaning your teeth every 6 months. So, is it hard to believe that the tartar build up and gum disease is any less in our pets’, who don’t usually get anywhere near that amount of home dental care?

Why does it matter if a pet doesn’t get a professional dental cleaning? After all, isn’t a stinky mouth just natural in dogs and cats? Nope, it isn’t. A bad smelling mouth means gum disease, which leads to infections, pain and a shorter life. (See the previous two blogs for greater details about this.) Home dental care and professional dental care go hand in hand to protect a pet’s health.

When does a pet start getting professional dental cleanings and how often should it be done? I recommend that a dog or cat have their first dental cleaning between 2 and 3 years of age. After that, most pets will need it done once a year to stop dental problems from progressing. Other factors like breed type, size, whether the immune system is healthy and how much home dental care is given will also influence the speed at which dental disease develops.

How in the world do we get a pet to let us into their mouth to clean under the gums and remove tartar from their teeth? The answer is anesthesia. The only way a complete and safe cleaning can be done is with anesthesia. If anyone tells you that they can clean your pet’s teeth without anesthesia, they are misinformed and doing your pet a disservice. Just like an iceberg, where most of the ice hides below the surface of the water, there is a lot of tooth below the surface of the gum line. If the area under the gums is not cleaned out with dental instruments, hidden tartar and bacteria will continue to push their way toward the roots of the tooth. This will lead to loss of attachment and, eventually, tooth loss. So, never settle for just having the obvious tartar cracked off the teeth. That’s only half the job.

What happens to my pet when they are hospitalized for a professional dental cleaning? Stay tuned for Part 2 and I’ll take you behind the scenes as we follow a pet through the steps of a professional dental cleaning.

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