Oral health is incredibly important for our pets yet many of our cats and dogs develop dental issues by the time they’re only three years old.
At ManyPets we receive hundreds of dental claims each year. We understand how painful dental conditions can be for pets and how worrying this can be for owners.
Dental problems often start as mild discomfort for pets but if left untreated can lead to more serious health issues. Scheduling regular visits to the vets for teeth cleans can help prevent dental conditions from developing.
You can also read our guide to cat and dog teeth cleaning you can do at home.
Ideally, dental cleaning procedures should be done when tartar is noticeable in the mouth, but before periodontal disease has developed. Taking this proactive approach should help keep your pet’s teeth and gums in the best possible condition.
Do pets need their teeth cleaned professionally?
Even if you’re good at regularly brushing your pet’s teeth at home, some plaque and tartar can’t be removed by brushing alone.
As a result, many dogs and cats start to develop dental issues while they’re still relatively young. As plaque forms on your pet’s teeth it hardens into tartar deposits. If left to accumulate on your pet’s teeth, this can lead to periodontal disease.
Even if you think your pet’s teeth look fine from a quick glance, a detailed examination from your vet may reveal something different. Dr Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS told us that: “Too often in practice we see animals that are quietly suffering with inflamed gums, cavities and even chronically infected tooth roots.”
Our Vet Relationship and Claims Manager and qualified vet nurse Sarah James says: "Regular dental checks are one of the best methods of prevention, vets can pick up on issues and advise pet owners early."
Pet owners should look out for any signs of dental disease that include:
Inflamed or bleeding gums
Deposits of yellow-brown tartar along the gums
How often should you have your pet’s teeth cleaned?
The answer will depend upon a number of different factors that may include:
How often you brush your pet’s teeth
Your pet’s age
Your pet’s breed
Your pet’s diet
Your vet will likely check your pet’s teeth at their annual health check. At this point, they’ll let you know if you need to book them in for a teeth cleaning appointment or if their oral health is currently good.
Some pets may need their teeth cleaned professionally once every six months, while for others your vet will recommend a schedule to suit them.
What to look for when having professional pet cleaning
Either your vet or a veterinary nurse qualified in dentistry will carry out your pet’s teeth cleaning procedure.
Follow any instructions before your visit, including removing their food for a certain number of hours.
Your vet may recommend a pre-anaesthesia check depending on your pet’s breed. You’ll also be asked to sign a consent form. Your pet’s dental health will be noted on a dental chart that will form part of their records.
Before the procedure, it’s a good idea to ask your vet what methods they will use to clean your pet’s teeth. An electronic sonic or ultrasonic de-scaler is the best option, as these effectively remove plaque and tartar.
A hand scaler may be used to remove small amounts of plaque and tartar in less accessible areas. Your pet’s teeth will sometimes be machine polished to create a smooth surface that’s as resistant to plaque as possible. For more serious cases, your pet may need X-rays or extractions.
What's the difference between dental scrapes and de-scaling?
You may see dental scrapes advertised for pets, but how are these different from a de-scale?
Scrapes are usually offered without anaesthetic, and may use tools like hand instruments or forceps to manually remove plaque and tartar from above the gum line only. Depending on your pet’s temperament, a machine polish may also be offered.
If you do see these kinds of procedures offered by non-clinical practitioners like pet groomers then it’s not recommended to use this service, even if the price is lower than having your pet’s teeth professionally de-scaled by your vet.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons notes that anaesthesia-free procedures aren’t in the best interests of your pet, and should be avoided.
Scraping the tartar off your pet’s teeth can also damage the enamel and create rough surfaces that will cause a faster build-up of plaque and tartar in the future. This method isn’t as effective as using a de-scaler and won’t usually be offered by most vets as a result.
Our Registered Veterinary Nurse Sarah James tells us that anaesthesia-free dental procedures like scrapes are not a good idea because they “will only ever improve the appearance of the tooth above the gum line – they will not be able to treat or clean anything below the gum line as this is only possible under general anaesthesia. This means your pet could have clean teeth on the surface, but will still be suffering from periodontal disease”.
Are there any health risks from dental cleans?
Dental cleans should be carried out under general anaesthetic and your vet will carefully assess your pet before the procedure.
The risks of leaving your pet’s teeth uncleaned are far greater in the long run than this short procedure. Dr Emma Milne says that if you don’t take care of your pet’s teeth they can often need extractions and antibiotic treatment later down the line.
“Getting your dogs used to gentle tooth brushing from a young age can massively help avoid this," she adds.
See our list of some of the best pet dental health products.
As always, prevention is better than cure. Owners should talk to their vet or nurse team about how to brush and also what foods, treats and other things might help tooth health.
Above all, if your vet feels that dental cleaning or more extensive work is needed, don’t take this lightly and think it doesn’t matter. "I’ve seen many animals transform overnight when the pain and infection in their mouths are resolved,” Dr Milne says.