If you have ever wondered as to what happens if teeth go for years without brushing (or you want to show your children what will become of their teeth if they fail to brush regularly), lift up your pet’s lips and have a look at the teeth and smell your pet’s breath.

The leading signs of periodontal disease is bad breath and discolored teeth. Periodontal disease is a problem that some studies estimate affects 85% of pets by three years of age. Daily tooth brushing and regular dental cleanings are crucial to the health of your pet’s mouth.

There is little difference between the dog or cat’s tooth and the human tooth. We all have a set of baby teeth that come in and fall out to make way for adult teeth. We all have nerves and blood vessels in our teeth surrounded by dentin, which is surrounded by a hard coat of enamel. The enamel is bathed in saliva and quickly covered by plaque which is bacteria mixed with saliva. If we do not regularly cleanse our pet’s mouths and brush away the plaque, the plaque will thicken, and harden into tartar. It is a vicious cycle in that tooth attachment is lost by the inflammation and tartar. This allows more tartar and bacteria to extend deeper into the tooth socket and can result in loss of tooth and bone.

Dogs and cats seem to have a high tolerance to oral pain, or at least they don’t show it like people do. It is very common for an owner to report that “Their dog is still eating!” when discussions of dental health come up. The assumption is, it can’t be that bad if the pet is still able to eat. In many cases it is only after oral problems are diagnosed and treated that we realize how much the pet was bothered. Many pets start playing with toys they have ignored for months or years and eat dry food with “gusto” after have dental procedures. The first language of most pets is body language and is often misinterpreted by owners.

It should not be surprising that dental health requires regular professional cleaning. Home care of the teeth, an important component of oral health, does not replace the need for professional cleaning. This would be a good place to comment on a Groomer cleaning teeth. It isn’t so much what they do that is of concern, as what they don’t do. Groomers for the most part are not trained in oral health, have no degrees in veterinary technology or dentistry. Really, all they do is brush the teeth for you. Their services can not be placed in the same category as Veterinary cleanings. Some Veterinarians are concerned that having the pet’s teeth by a groomer leaves owners with the false sense of security that all is well. Nothing could be further from the truth. Up to 50% of the dental problems exist out of sight, below the gum line. Many veterinary clinics no longer label what they do as “Cleaning Teeth” even though that is an important part of it. The anachronism now used is C.O.H.A.T It is an all encompassing term and stands for Complete Oral Health Assessment and Treatment.

The cleaning performed at your veterinarian is done while under anesthesia and includes many steps. I have often told pet owners that it is impossible, even with the most cooperative and compliant pet, to know exactly what is going on with all of the teeth without anesthesia. It is just not in their nature to allow poking, prodding, measuring and x-raying of teeth while they are awake.

Here is a brief overview of what is involved in a routine dental cleaning for your pet:

  • Gross (visible) tartar is removed with hand scalers.
  • More delicate tartar deposits are removed from the gum line with ultrasonic scalers.
  • Periodontal pockets are probed and measured to assess periodontal disease.
  • The roots are planed, (meaning tartar is scraped from below the gum line) until the roots are smooth.
  • The enamel is polished after tartar removal.
  • The mouth is disinfected and treated with a fluoride sealer.
  • Professional records and dental chart, noting abnormalities on each teeth.
  • X-rays are taken to record or investigate.

The first step in oral health assessment is done with your veterinarian during a thorough physical exam. A plan for dental care that is breed and age specific can be discussed and options available to you for home care.