Dentistry for Dogs and Cats

Dr. Nicola Council is passionate about working with pet owners to provide the best dental care for their dogs and cats. One of the most important things you can do for your pet is to learn why dental care is vital to health and longevity. Here’s some of the most common questions we get about dentistry for dogs and cats:

Is dental disease really a big deal in cats and dogs?
Dental disease affects almost every single pet over the age of two.  If left untreated, it can lead to significant mouth discomfort, changes in behavior, and can complicate other health issues such as diabetes.  The good news is that often the changes can be reversed with professional dental care.

What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is an inflammatory condition that affects the soft and hard tissues in the mouth.  The condition starts out as gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), but as it progresses, it will ultimately lead to periodontitis (loss of the soft tissues and bone supporting the teeth).  When this occurs, extraction of affected teeth may be the only treatment option.  Periodontal disease is a painful condition and can ultimately affect the entire body.  Periodontal disease in humans has been linked to several health issues, and the same can be seen in our pets.

How can I tell if my pet has periodontal disease?
Signs of periodontal disease may include redness to the gums (gingivitis), calculus (tartar) and plaque formation, mouth sensitivity, changes in eating or playing behaviors (such as shying away from favorite toys or only chewing on one side), rubbing or pawing at the face, bad breath, and broken/missing/loose teeth.  That being said, it is not uncommon for our doctors to find evidence of significant periodontal disease or broken teeth incidentally during a routine wellness examination.  Some pets are just very good about hiding when their mouths hurt (especially cats)!  If you aren’t sure if your pet has periodontal disease, please call us and we are happy to perform a complimentary oral health assessment for your pet.

Why is it important to have my pet’s teeth cleaned regularly?
Oral bacteria start to form plaque within 24 hours after a professional cleaning.  Over the period of a few days, this plaque mixes with saliva and begins to turn into calculus (also known as tartar).  Plaque is easily brushed away with a toothbrush, but calculus is a very hard substance that can only be removed with special dental instruments.  If left untreated, periodontal disease can progress and lead to the loss of gum tissue and bone underneath the gumline.

My dog eats hard food. Isn’t that like brushing his teeth?
Eating hard food does help prevent plaque and calculus formation, however, it is unfortunately not a substitute for brushing and other home dental care options.  There are special dental diets available, such as Hills’ t/d (tooth diet), which can be fed as part of a comprehensive dental home care plan. Our Hillside Animal Hospital team can help you chose a pet food that’s right for your pet.

How do I brush my pet’s teeth?
At Hillside Animal Hospital, we recommend starting to brush your pet’s teeth only if their mouth is not already affected by dental disease, as trying to brush when their gums are already sensitive may create an aversion to brushing all together.  The best time to start brushing is right after a professional cleaning when the gums are no longer sensitive or when pets are very young (yes, we do recommend starting to brush your puppy or kitten’s teeth, even though their baby teeth will fall out – it helps get them used to the process and also helps establish a routine).  If you are interested in learning to brush your pet’s teeth, we offer demonstrations and handouts on how to get started.

What is involved in a dental cleaning at Hillside Animal Hospital?
We like to start with a complimentary oral health assessment.  During this visit, your pet’s mouth is evaluated while they are awake so that we can determine what stage of dental disease may be present and then create a customized plan for addressing their periodontal disease.  A small blood sample is often taken at this visit as a pre-anesthetic screening.  Our doctors and technicians can also answer any questions you may have about the procedure and then help choose a day that works best for your schedule.  A treatment plan will also be provided for you at that visit.

On the day of the procedure, you and your pet will meet with one of our trained technicians, who will be working with the doctor throughout the day to help care for your pet.  After their admission appointment, your pet will receive some pre-anesthetic medication to make sure that they are comfortable and relaxed prior to the start of their procedure.  A small IV (intravenous) catheter is placed to allow us to administer medications and fluids during the procedure.  Our dental procedures typically start between 9 and 10 in the morning.  A full series of digital dental radiographs (x-rays) are taken, followed by a thorough mouth examination, which allow the doctor to have a complete picture of your pet’s oral health.  A supragingival (above the gumline) and subgingival (below the gumline) ultrasonic scaling is performed on all teeth, followed by polishing.

We ask that owners be available by phone during the morning of their pet’s dental procedure, in the event that teeth requiring additional treatment are noted during the exam.  Some teeth may be noted to have deeper gingival (gum) pockets, which can be treated with a special antibiotic gel.  Occasionally, the doctor may notice a tooth that may need to be removed.  Should your pet need any extractions, a local anesthetic will be placed prior to any oral surgery.  A therapy laser (K-Laser) treatment will also be performed post-operatively, to help decrease pain and inflammation in your pet’s mouth.

Once your pet is awake, we monitor them closely to ensure that they are comfortable.  Most pets are ready to go home by mid-afternoon.  During the scheduled dismissal appointment, you will meet with the doctor and technician who has been caring for your pet and go over your pet’s dental radiographs and discuss the procedure in more detail.  If your pet did have an extraction performed, a complimentary follow-up appointment is recommended about two weeks following the procedure, to ensure that your pet’s mouth has healed appropriately as well as to discuss home care options in more detail.

Why does a dental cleaning have to be done under anesthesia?
It is not possible to do a complete subgingival (underneath the gumline) in an awake animal.  The majority of periodontal disease occurs underneath the gumline, so just addressing the crowns of the teeth (the visible portion of the tooth), does the pet a disservice.  Performing cleanings under anesthesia allows for a complete mouth examination as well as alleviates concern of pets accidentally inhaling the material being cleaned from the surfaces of the teeth (calculus, plaque and bacteria), as an endotracheal tube is in place to help protect their airway.  Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are purely a cosmetic procedure and are of no health benefit to dogs or cats.

When is a pet too old to have a dental cleaning?
Age is truly just a number.  Anesthetized dental cleanings can be performed on pets of any age.  Each anesthesia plan is customized for each individual pet.  If a pet has a concurrent health issue, such as significant heart or kidney disease, we work with a board-certified anesthesiologist who can provide additional options for anesthesia.

As a pet owner, what can I do at home to prevent periodontal disease?
Several home care options are available for both dogs and cats.  Besides brushing, other options include special water additives and gels (Healthy Mouth), dental diets (Hills’ t/d), dental chews (TartarShield, Greenies) and Sanos dental sealant (a special sealant that can be applied after a professional cleaning to help slow down recurrence of periodontal disease).  We only recommend dental products that have been evaluated by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC).  The VOHC evaluates dental products to make sure that they are effective – please see for more information.

What should a pet chew on?
We do not recommend any toys or treats that could potentially cause damage or trauma to your pet’s teeth.  We frequently see dogs with broken teeth from chewing on antlers, bones, rocks, ice cubes and Nylabones.  Our general rule is that if the object is as hard as a tooth, it can break a tooth.  We recommend Kong products for voracious chewers, as well as TartarShield and Greenies dental chews.





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