Does my cat (or dog) really need a dental treatment?

In short, most likely.

Dogs and cats develop dental calculus, tartar, and gum disease just like humans. Unlike humans, they can’t brush their teeth after every meal, floss daily, and use mouthwash as indicated. More importantly, they can’t tell their dentist if a certain tooth or area on their gums hurts.

I have done thousands of dental treatments for cats and dogs over the years, and I am constantly amazed by how much better cats and dogs who have had appropriate, comprehensive dental treatments act after we’ve done them. Over and over again, we call owners the following day and hear how their dog or their cat is acting younger than they were before the dental treatment. That the owners had no idea that their dog or cat had been uncomfortable before the dental treatment, until they saw how they were acting after. It is easily one of the most rewarding procedures I will ever do as a veterinarian.

What does a comprehensive dental treatment entail?

First, there will be an oral exam completed while the animal is awake. This helps us get an idea of how good or bad we think their mouth is, and critically, helps me evaluate their suitability for anesthesia. Once we determine the cat or dog is a suitable candidate, we schedule the rest of the dental procedure to be done under anesthesia.

Once we have the cat or dog sedated and then safely under full anesthesia, we perform a full oral exam again. This helps us identify obvious problems we would have had trouble finding in most awake cats and dogs, including tumors, ulcers, and problems in the back of the mouth or larynx. We take radiographs of every single tooth and like your own dentist, probe every surface of every tooth-gum attachment to identify and measure periodontal pockets.

Then we remove the tartar you can see, then the tartar you can’t see, including the critical tartar and plaque below the gum line, and polish every surface of every tooth to help slow the recurrent build up of tartar.

After the mouth is clean, we address the below-the-gumline issues. This will include periodontal surgery for deeper periodontal pockets and extractions as needed. Once a tooth is extracted, every extraction site will be fully closed, every time, if at all possible. This helps prevent infection, dramatically reduces post-operative pain and complications, and speeds healing.

Scaling tartar without polishing and without cleaning below the gum line is neither safe or useful in the long-term. Removing tartar without extracting badly diseased teeth is also not useful and will not promote health. We have found that in both humans and animals, untreated gum and periodontal disease and infection is strongly associated with shorter lives and higher rates of kidney, heart, and liver disease.

In general, to balance the benefits of regular dental health care with potential risks of anesthesia, most animals will likely need annual dental treatments, once they need their first. Some will need them less often, and some will need them more often, but their lives will be better with the appropriate frequency of dental maintenance treatments.

If you have more questions about dental treatments and if your pet should need an evaluation, please contact us.