Similar to people having their teeth cleaned by dental professionals twice per year, pets need regular professional dental care to keep their mouth and teeth optimally healthy. However, because veterinary dental procedures require anesthesia, many pet owners are hesitant about frequent cleanings and extend the interval between them as long as possible. Waiting too long between cleanings can be detrimental, because much more than simply scaling and polishing teeth is involved—they include a full oral examination and X-rays to detect hidden, potentially serious, problems. The Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team recommends annual dental cleanings for most pets, and we want pet owners to understand why.

What does a professional pet dental cleaning involve?

Prior to any anesthetized procedure, we perform a complete physical examination, blood work, and other relevant tests to ensure your pet is healthy. If we find any problems, we can adjust our anesthetic protocol for maximum safety for your specific pet. On the procedure day, we may ask you to give oral anti-anxiety medications prior to arrival, and we will administer pain medications and sedatives to reduce any stress in your pet. Your pet’s vital signs are constantly monitored at intake, throughout their procedure, and during recovery.

During the dental procedure itself, we perform several important steps:

  • Dental scaling and polishing — We remove tartar and bacteria.
  • Subgingival dental scaling and curettage — We remove debris below the gum line and around tooth roots.
  • Intraoral X-rays — We take X-rays to diagnose problems with tooth roots that aren’t apparent to the naked eye. Twenty-eight percent of dogs and 41% of cats have disease below the gum line that can be diagnosed only on X-rays.
  • Full oral examination — We chart each individual tooth’s health and examine the mouth for tumors, ulcers, and other problems.
  • Dental surgery — Tooth extractions are the most common treatment for diseased teeth. If your pet requires extractions, we will let you know before proceeding.
  • Anti-plaque sealant — We apply sealant to teeth after cleaning to repel plaque for several weeks, until toothbrushing can safely resume.

Your pet will go home after the procedure with additional pain medications or antibiotics as needed, and instructions for starting or resuming their at-home oral health care plan.

Which pets are at higher risk for dental problems?

Each pet’s individual genetics influences how quickly they build up plaque and tartar, their oral bacterial balance, and the strength of their immune system response to the bacteria causing inflammation. Despite these individual differences, breed, species, and size are important determining factors for dental disease risk. Cats can develop oral inflammation, mouth ulcers, and resorbing teeth at any age, no matter how well their teeth are cared for. For dogs, breed is a strong predictor—small breeds who weigh less than 25 pounds and brachycephalic breeds (i.e., those with flat faces) have more crowded teeth and develop disease faster than larger breeds.

How often does my pet need a professional dental cleaning?

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) dental health guidelines recommend that cats and small-breed dogs undergo their first professional dental cleaning and complete oral evaluation around 1 year old, and large-breed dogs around 2 years old. This allows early detection of any problems and identification of teeth that failed to erupt or baby teeth that failed to fall out, which can cause problems later in life. After that, our hospital recommends annual dental cleanings for most pets. Some pets, such as brachycephalic breeds, accumulate tartar more quickly, and require biannual cleanings.

Can home care extend the time between my pet’s dental cleanings?

For some pets, diligent dental home care can extend time between cleanings, but this depends on the individual pet, and can be determined only by your veterinarian. We evaluate your pet’s teeth at every wellness visit, ideally once or twice per year, and can tell you how your dental home care is working. Because many dental pathologies start below the gum line, a professional dental cleaning, ideally annually, is the only way to address your pet’s complete oral needs. Most humans brush, floss, and use oral rinses twice daily, but still require regular professional care—and the same is true for pets.

Poor dental health has a detrimental effect on your pet’s quality of life and overall wellbeing, and severe disease can shorten their life. Daily home care and the Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team’s professional annual dental examinations and cleanings can prevent unnecessary pain and suffering. Call us to schedule a visit for a dental examination, oral health consultation, or a professional pet dental cleaning.