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Dog Dental Disease: Why Professional Dental Cleanings Are Important

Maybe you’ve noticed a funny smell from your dog’s mouth. Or, maybe your veterinarian just told you your pal needs a professional dental cleaning, and you’d like to learn more.

Whether or not your furry friend is currently showing any symptoms of a dental problem, it’s very important to consider their mouth when you plan for their overall health. Here’s why…

Why is dental care important for dogs?

Dental disease in dogs begins with a thin film called plaque that accumulates naturally after eating. It happens in humans, too. If you run your tongue over your teeth at the end of the day, you’ll probably feel this thin film. In fact, that’s why we brush our own teeth every day—brushing can remove much of this plaque before it turns into tartar.

The danger develops when more and more plaque accumulates and thickens into hard mineral deposits called tartar or calculus. You may notice these as a white, yellow, or brown hardened material on your dog’s teeth, especially near the gums. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to remove calculus through brushing alone.


A lot of this calculus buildup happens where you can’t see — below the gumline. It’s there that most of the damage occurs, because calculus harbors bacteria, leading to inflammation or infection of the gums.

That’s the first sign of periodontal disease, the process where dental disease worsens and affects structures that hold a dog’s teeth in place, such as gums, dental ligaments, and bone. This can lead to pain, tooth loss, and spreading of bacteria through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, such as the kidneys and heart. In severe cases, it can even lead to jaw fractures, due to bone loss around the tooth.

Causes and symptoms of dental disease

Dental disease is a natural occurrence — plaque and calculus accumulate over time in all dogs. However, it tends to be most severe for certain breeds, especially small dogs and dogs with short noses (like pugs), since the teeth are crowded in small jaws.

Common symptoms of dental or periodontal disease in dogs include:

  • Halitosis (stinky breath)
  • Tartar or calculus buildup on your pal’s teeth
  • Gingivitis (red, inflamed, or bleeding gums)
  • Gum recession
  • Tooth loss, or wobbly teeth
  • A decreased appetite
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • A sudden increase in drooling
  • Dropping food, or swallowing food whole without chewing it

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Your veterinarian will check your dog’s mouth as part of their routine physical exam. But if you notice any of these symptoms in between checkups, it’s a good idea to schedule a dental consultation.

Professional dental cleanings

There are preventive measures you can take at home to keep your dog’s teeth and mouth as healthy as possible. However, dental cleanings with a veterinarian are also an important part of their health care plan. Dental cleanings can help provide a deeper cleaning — more than a pet toothbrush and toothpaste can do.

Here are a few reasons why a dental cleaning is beneficial for your dog’s mouth and overall health…

  • It allows a thorough scaling / cleaning of *all* surfaces of the teeth, including the tongue-side of that’s harder to reach. And most importantly, it includes cleaning below the gumline — that’s where a lot of problems start, even before you can see them.
  • Your vet can chart your dog’s teeth, so that any changes can be monitored over time.
  • It lets your vet assess the entire mouth, including the tongue, gums, cheeks, salivary glands, roof of the mouth, upper throat, and tonsils. These parts of the mouth are normally hard to see, but a dental procedure can allow for earlier detection, diagnosis, and treatment of any oral health problems and tumors that could occur in the mouth.
  • It allows a full oral health exam. That includes:
    • Probing the gumline to look for pockets and charting all teeth.
    • Noting any loose teeth or other problems that could require treatment.
    • If needed, treatments such as removing loose or diseased teeth (your veterinarian would discuss this with you if recommended for your pooch).
    • Polishing the teeth. This smooths the teeth after scaling and helps to decrease the rate of subsequent plaque buildup.

How is a dental cleaning performed?

For your pal’s safety and comfort, dental cleanings are performed under anesthesia. There are several reasons why…

  • To prevent fear and pain. Restraint and total stillness are needed, and deep cleanings below the gumline can be uncomfortable if done while awake. Anesthesia allows your pet to rest comfortably during all of this.
  • To prevent injuries to your pet. Some cleaning equipment is sharp, so anesthesia prevents sudden movements that could otherwise result in injury.
  • To prevent injuries to veterinary staff and dental equipment.
  • To protect your pet’s airways. Your dog doesn’t know how to rinse and spit like you would at the dentist—so during anesthesia, measures are taken to prevent the cleaning materials and water from entering the throat.
  • To enable a full oral exam, which would be impossible to do awake on most dogs.

So while anesthesia might sound a little scary… it really does make the experience safer and more comfortable for your pup. Rather than being uncomfortable, scared and restrained, they’ll take a nap and go home with a fresh and clean mouth.

What about anesthesia-free dental cleanings for dogs?

For the reasons mentioned above, we don’t recommend non-anesthetic dental cleanings. They’re typically not thorough enough to really clean below the gumline and prevent periodontal disease. Plus, they can be stressful for your pal.

Oral health and dental disease in dogs: Prevention is better than cure

Many of the effects of periodontal disease can’t be undone once they occur. So, it’s best to prevent problems *before* they start. 

A dental cleaning with your veterinarian is a key part of preventing dog dental disease. By also including teeth brushing into your pets daily routine, you can help to remove the plaque before any dental issues begin. You will simply need a pet toothbrush and pet toothpaste to get the job done! If you do not have a pet specific toothbrush, you may also use a children's toothbrush, or a finger toothbrush. It is important to use a pet toothpaste, as human toothpaste contains toxic ingredients for pets.

To include oral care as an important part of your dog’s whole-body health care plan — and to prevent stinky breath during cuddle time — talk to your veterinarian about home dental care, and about when to schedule a dental cleaning for your furry pal. A dental check is part of every wellness exam at Bond Vet — book now

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