Pet Dental Frequently Asked Questions

Here at Riverstone Animal Hospital, we celebrate Pet Dental Health month twice a year so we can meet the needs of as many pets as possible! We’ve been going strong so far this month cleaning teeth and ensuring they have a healthy mouth and gums. Here are a few of the questions we get most often:

Why does my pet need a dental cleaning?

We covered that one in more detail in our last post. The short answer is that unless you are brushing your pet’s teeth every day, they are building up plaque and tartar, which is home to millions of bacteria. Those bacteria move up under the gums and cause damage to the gums and the jaw bones. The bacteria can also cause severe inflammation in cats, and in all species can get into the bloodstream and cause problems elsewhere in the body.

I’m worried about anesthesia!

This is something we would love to talk to you about, because every pet is different and may have different risks and needs. We perform a physical exam and bloodwork before all anesthetic procedures to identify major problems which could increase your pet’s risk. We then tailor an anesthesia plan specific for your pet. We sedate pets before anesthesia which allows us to use lower doses of anesthesia. During anesthesia, we monitor your pet’s heart rate, blood pressure, oxygenation, carbon dioxide levels, and temperature. Your pet will have a catheter in their vein, which allows us to provide fluid support and give medications immediately as needed to correct issues we are seeing with our monitoring, such as low heart rate. No anesthesia is without risk, but if we did not feel the many benefits of dental cleaning outweighed the very low risks under anesthesia, we would not recommend a dental cleaning for your specific pet.

But my pet is too old to have her teeth cleaned!

The great news is, age by itself is not a disease! We perform more extensive bloodwork for older pets, allowing us to identify major health issues before we move forward. If your older pet hasn’t had her teeth cleaned in awhile, she may be dealing with advanced periodontal disease that can cause significant pain and infection! Dental disease is a gradual condition, and it can easily mistaken for just “getting old”. Many people have noticed their pet “slowing down” with age and just not being as playful anymore, or being pickier about food. A lot of those people are pleasantly surprised when their pet gets her spunky behavior back after healing from her dental procedure!

Why do your dental cleanings cost what they do?

This is a great question because it allows us to talk about what we do differently and why you are getting such a great value. We actually heavily discount dental cleanings compared to surgical procedures because we want to help prevent problems instead of just treating them. The anesthetic monitoring we mentioned above is not performed at every veterinary hospital — if you are not one of our regular clients, make sure to ask detailed questions about how your clinic keeps anesthesia safe! We chart every patient, every time, meaning that we measure the depth of the gums just like they do at your family dentist. We also take complete dental x-rays during every cleaning, and many veterinary facilities do not have dental x-ray machines. These x-rays can identify problems that can be impossible to see with the naked eye; we’ll go into more detail in the next question.

Why are dental x-rays so important?

60% of each tooth is below the gum line! This area can only be seen on x-ray. Here are some examples of problems where the tooth looked normal on the outside, only to have serious problems below the gums.



xrayteeth3 These teeth likely have a lot of tartar on the surface of the tooth. If you just cleaned the teeth and didn’t take x-rays, you wouldn’t see that the bone underneath is basically dissolving.

What can I do at home so my pet doesn’t need dental cleanings or oral surgery?

We recommend that you start caring for your pet’s teeth at home as soon as possible, preferably when they are very young. The at-home care should include brushing or use of other effective techniques to slow accumulation of dental plaque, such as dental diets and chew materials. One easy way to clean the teeth at home is to use cheesecloth or gauze around your finger to scrub the outside of the teeth with dog toothpaste. At-home care, combined with regular examination and cleaning by one of our veterinarians, can help your pet have better oral health and live a longer life. For effective oral hygiene product recommendations for dogs and cats, visit The Veterinary Oral Health Council.


Call us today to schedule a dental cleaning appointment or to have your pet’s mouth evaluated!