According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 70% of dogs and cats develop dental disease by 3 years of age.

Periodontal disease (infection and inflammation of the gums) is the most common dental condition affecting pets.

It all starts when plaque (the film you can feel on your teeth, but can’t see – same for pets) and tartar build up on your pet’s teeth.

Plaque and tartar contain high amounts of bacteria which cause bad breath, red gums, bleeding gums, receding gums, loose teeth and teeth that are falling out.

A lot of this nasty business is going on under the gum line where you cannot see the infection.

A “dental” is actually a prophylactic (protecting against disease) treatment to keep the teeth clean, thus eliminating much of the bacteria that cause gum disease.

Anesthesia is required to do a thorough dental – there is scraping of the teeth and below the gum line, which is uncomfortable.

How many pets do you know that will sit still for 1 hour with their mouth open while a veterinary technician uses a sharp instrument to scrape their teeth and under their gums?

There are many similarities between your dental prophy and your pets. There is probing for pockets around the teeth, gingival scores of the gum disease, and often digital x-rays. After all the scraping and cleaning, the teeth are “polished” with a paste that smoothes out the scratches in the enamel that occur with the cleaning.

This is a very important step – thus I caution you on allowing a groomer to scrape your pet’s teeth.

Always ask if they polish afterward and if not, you should decline the service.

I often hear about the high cost of a dental prophy, but let me put this in perspective.

A thorough dental prophy requires blood work prior to the anesthesia, an intravenous catheter in the leg to allow for drug and fluid administration during the procedure, 3 veterinary staff: 1 technician to monitor the anesthesia, 1 technician to thoroughly clean, polish and perhaps take x-rays, and the veterinarian to probe for pockets, determine gingival scores and extract problem teeth.

Then there is the post-op time where the patient is monitored after the anesthetic has been discontinued and the face washed and the hair brushed.

This is not a fast procedure, nor is it a simple one.

I recommend my patients have a dental prophy once a year after they reach 3-5 years of age.

I also suggest the family start a “dental savings account” for their pet when they are just puppies or kittens.

That makes a lot of sense and helps ease the budget when the time comes for teeth cleaning!