Does Your Pet Need a Tooth Cleaning?

Veterinarians often recommend yearly tooth cleanings for dogs and cats, which require general anesthesia and often cost $200.00 or more. If your veterinarian has recommended dental work, you may be able to get the procedure performed at your usual clinic, or you may be referred to a specialist.

When is a Tooth Cleaning Necessary?

If a pet suffers from plaque, tartar, foul breath, gum disease, or any combination of those symptoms, he or she may need veterinary dental care. Tooth and gum disease substantially increases a pet’s risk of heart failure.

Abscessed teeth or dark, mushy teeth indicate a serious, emergent problem. If your pet displays either of these symptoms, see a veterinary dentist right away. If you don’t know of a veterinary dentist, ask your regular clinic for a referral. An abscessed tooth could lead to cranial thrombosis, in which an infection in the tooth pulp spreads up to an animal’s skull and could become fatal.

When Is a Tooth Cleaning a Bad Idea?

Veterinarians aren’t always perfect. While most vets are pet lovers and only want the best for their clients, I have heard many stories of veterinarians more interested in pushing expensive services like dental cleanings on every client than in patient well-being. If you have anything less than complete trust in your vet, a second opinion may be a good idea prior to authorizing general anesthesia.

Anesthetizing a pet is not without its dangers. Elderly or chronically ill pets have a higher risk of complications from anesthesia. However, even a young, healthy pet could react poorly to anesthesia. Serious reactions are relatively rare, but can be fatal. Pets with past respiratory problems are also at a higher risk when anesthetized, as their lungs may have been damaged by prior illnesses.

If your pet is elderly or ill, always get a second opinion before authorizing anesthesia, except in the case of a life-threatening emergency. Be sure to choose your secondary veterinarian as carefully as you did the first (if not more so). You don’t want to simply be getting poor advice from two people and paying for it twice!

Preventing Tooth Decay

Daily tooth brushing for dogs and cats is the most reliable method of halting or preventing tooth decay. A dog or cat with teeth brushed daily will thrive, provided he or she is fed a healthful diet. However, a dog or cat eating a grain-heavy grocery brand kibble is likely to have tooth decay and plaque no matter how often the owner brushes its teeth.

Raw meaty bones and certain commercial chew products can also help to clean teeth. However, frequent tooth brushing and yearly visits to a veterinarian remain the best tools to prevent tooth and gum disease.

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