5 Steps to Help Keep Your Pet’s Mouth Healthy

By Dr. Becker DVM

  1. Feed a nutritionally optimal, species-specific, fresh food diet, and feed it raw if possible. When your dog or cat gnaws on raw meat, it acts as a kind of natural toothbrush and dental floss.
  2. If you have a dog, offer recreational bones and/or a fully digestible, high quality dental dog chew to help control plaque and tartar. The effect of dental chews is similar to raw bones, but safer for power chewers or dogs who have restorative dental work and can’t chew raw bones.
  3. Brush your pet’s teeth, preferably every day. A little time spent each day brushing your dog’s or kitty’s teeth can be tremendously beneficial in maintaining her oral health and overall well-being.
  4. Perform routine mouth inspections. Your pet should allow you to open his mouth, look inside, and feel around for loose teeth or unusual lumps or bumps on the tongue, under the tongue, along the gum line and on the roof of the mouth. After you do this a few times, you’ll become aware of any changes that occur from one inspection to the next. You should also make note of any differences in the smell of your pet’s breath that aren’t diet-related.
  5. Arrange for regular oral exams performed by your veterinarian. He or she will alert you to any existing or potential problems in your pet’s mouth, and recommend professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia, if necessary.

Daily homecare and as-needed professional attention by your veterinarian are the best way to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and disease-free. They are also important for pets with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and kidney failure.

What to Expect From a Veterinary Oral Exam and Cleaning

Prior to the oral exam and cleaning, your pet should undergo a physical exam and blood tests to ensure she can be safely anesthetized for the procedure. The day of the cleaning, she’ll be sedated and a tube will be placed to maintain a clear airway and so that oxygen and anesthetic gas can be given.

An IV catheter should also be placed so that fluids and anesthesia can be administered as appropriate throughout the procedure. If you’re wondering why pets require general anesthesia and intubation for a seemingly simple procedure, there are a number of benefits:

  • Anesthesia immobilizes your dog or cat to insure her safety and cooperation during a confusing, stressful procedure
  • It provides for effective pain management during the procedure
  • It allows for a careful and complete examination of all surfaces inside the oral cavity, as well as the taking of digital x-rays, which are necessary to address issues that are brewing below the surface of the gums that can’t been seen and could cause problems down the road
  • It permits the veterinarian to probe and scale as deeply as necessary below the gum line where 60% or more of plaque and tartar accumulate
  • Intubation while the patient is under general anesthesia protects the trachea and prevents aspiration of water and oral debris

While your pet is anesthetized, her teeth will be cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler as well as a hand scaler to clean under and around every tooth. Your vet will use dental probes to measure the depths of the pockets in the gum around each tooth, and x-rays should be taken.

Once all the plaque and tartar is off the teeth, the animal’s mouth will be rinsed and each tooth will be polished. The reason for polishing is to smooth any tiny grooves on the teeth left by the cleaning so they don’t attract more plaque and tartar. After polishing, the mouth is rinsed again.

The oral exam, x-rays and cleaning with no tooth extractions usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour. The cost will depend on where you live, and typically ranges from around $400 to $1,000. Veterinary dental specialist visits will be more expensive; you’re paying for more specialized equipment and their ability to expertly manage complicated oral problems.

Extractions are typically priced according to the type of tooth and the time and work needed to remove it. There are simple extractions, elevated extractions, and extractions of teeth with multiple roots, which tend to be the priciest. Exceptional pain management after dental extractions should never be elective; always give adequate pain control for as long as necessary after more invasive dental procedures.

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