We know dental health in pets can be hard to understand… your breeder says one thing, the internet says another, and your friend who rescues dogs says something completely different! We asked Dr. Yung to demystify dental health and cleanings… here are your most frequently asked questions about your pet’s teeth:
Why does my pet need a preventive dental cleaning? Can’t I just wait until there’s a problem?
We really want to get in there and prevent an irreversible disease from setting in. We don’t want your dog or cat to suffer the pain of dental infection, we want to prevent it!
My dog is tiny and so are her teeth! There can’t be very much to clean in her little mouth?
Little dogs have such little roots in their teeth – just a whiff of periodontal disease will expose that root and create irreversible periodontal disease, making extraction the only option.
I’ve heard that short-nosed dogs like my pug can have dental problems, why is that?
All dogs have the same number of teeth – about 42 (people only have 32)– but you can imagine that the teeth in your adorably snubby pug/boston terrier/lhasa apso/etc don’t have quite the same spacing as a long-nosed lab or golden retriever. Crowding of these teeth can predispose to quickly advancing periodontal disease.
My dog is a big guy! His teeth seem strong because he’s always chewing on stuff – is a dental cleaning really necessary?
Big Bubba has big teeth and big roots! Keeping his teeth clean and healthy is very important because If a tooth does degenerate past the point of no return, then extractions can be a significant dental surgery.
My cat seems fine! If there was a problem wouldn’t I know?
Kitties are really good at hiding dental disease like resorptive lesions, which are kind of like painful kitty cavities. Often these occur below the gumline where they can’t be seen. When we clean your cat’s teeth we’ll make sure we get some dental xrays to make sure everything looks good above and below the gumline.
I know my dog has bad breath, and my veterinarian said he has a broken tooth, but my dog is still eating and doesn’t seem to be in pain. Doesn’t that mean he’s ok?
Not eating due to pain is the last thing to go. Animals will continue to eat and drink even through significant oral pain. It’s like people with a massive toothache – we’ll still eat despite an ouchy mouth, our instincts to survive are strong! If an animal does stop eating because of oral pain, he is at risk for potentially permanent pain since it means that chronic pain has been there for sooooo long it has caused irreversible damage.
My dog has a loose tooth, but won’t the tooth just fall out on its own?
Cat and dog teeth and roots are very different than human teeth. People have these wimpy little roots, so in those horrible cases of unintended periodontal disease, that poor person’s tooth falls out because human teeth don’t have a deep anchor. The roots on cat and dog teeth, however, are often bigger than the crown itself, so they have to have SEVERE, AWFUL infection and bone loss to “lose” their teeth.
Why does my pet need to be there all day for a dental cleaning? It only takes my dentist an hour to clean my teeth.
Don’t think of it as a dental cleaning – it is a medical procedure and dental treatment. It’s a big deal – it takes a minimum of 3 medical professionals per case, and just the cleaning can take 2 hours in a medium dog!
Why does my pet need anesthesia for a dental cleaning? I heard there are places that can clean my pet’s teeth without anesthesia.
First off, can you imagine trying to hold your dog or cat’s mouth open for 1-2 hours? Add to that, cats and dogs have a significant amount of their dental disease UNDER the gumline, and this is only accessible by evaluating and cleaning under full anesthesia. “Anesthesia-free” dental cleanings are risky and can be painful – click here to learn more about why we will not do dental cleanings without anesthesia because they are not safe. Also, as an AAHA-accredited hospital, we must perform dental cleanings under anesthesia – click here to read why AAHA mandates anesthesia for dental procedures.
Why is a dental cleaning so expensive?
The dental procedure that I’m advocating for Fluffy is not the same as when you pay the groomer $10 to brush his teeth. In fact, please save your money because that does absolutely nothing to help Fluffy’s dental health. It cannot remove the amount of tartar built up or the gingivitis present. Once we clean above and below the gumline under anesthesia, then that’s a clean slate that you can build on and start brushing his teeth regularly, which can help prevent problems in the future.
Last time my dog had a dental cleaning everything looked fine beforehand, but then my veterinarian called and said she needed to extract a tooth! Why couldn’t she tell ahead of time?
We never know if there are any surprises lurking in there – sometimes there’s a bad tooth in the back that we can’t see when your pet is awake, a severe periodontal pocket on a big tooth that we can’t see until we examine it with a probe or a normal-looking tooth that actually has an infection around the root that we only can see on x-rays. So make sure you are available that day, I won’t know the full picture until I‘m in there, but of course, I’ll call you before I do anything!