Pets need to see the dentist just like people. Veterinarians routinely recommend dental cleaning when they notice a significant build up of plaque and tartar on a pet’s teeth. Plaque and tartar promote the development of gingivitis and periodontal disease, which in turn can lead to infection, tooth loss, and even heart, kidney and liver disease.
The biggest difference between human and pet dentistry is the need for dogs and cats to be under general anesthesia for even a simple dental cleaning. Most owners understand that their pets require dental care, but often balk because of the perceived risk associated with anesthesia and the cost. In response to these concerns, some people are marketing themselves as pet “dental hygienists” and offer “anesthesia-free” dental cleaning, but owners should steer clear of these services for several reasons:
- Without anesthesia, only a hand scaler can be used. These leave behind irregularities on the tooth surface which actually promote the rapid return of plaque and tartar. Veterinarians use ultrasonic scalers, polishers, and sometimes even apply a sealant to the surface of teeth to discourage plaque and tartar from returning.
- Anesthesia is required to safely clean all surfaces of a pet’s teeth, including reaching up under the gum line.
- Hand scalers are sharp. If a dog or cat moves abruptly during an “anesthesia-free” procedure, it may be injured.
- An essential part of a dental cleaning is a thorough oral examination and maybe even dental x-rays. Without anesthesia the entire mouth cannot be fully examined and broken teeth, oral tumors, and other problems may be overlooked giving owners a false sense of security.
Routine, at-home dental care is also an essential part of keeping a pet’s teeth healthy. Daily brushing is best, but alternatives like oral rinses, drinking water additives, and special foods, treats and chews can be used when brushing is not an option.