Dental disease is visible if vet wants your pet’s teeth cleaned

Q: I take my dog, “Putter,” to the vet every year for his check-up. And every year, my vet says that Putter needs his teeth cleaned. Is it really that important? And why does Putter need to be asleep for that? W.S., Farragut

A: Yes, dental health for our pets is actually really important. If your veterinarian has recommended a teeth cleaning, that means there are visible signs of dental disease present. Tartar, gingivitis, fractured teeth and even loose or abscessed teeth can be detected on physical exam.

Dental cleanings for dogs and cats are very similar to your own dental checkups, with the exception that pets require general anesthesia. Our pets will simply not be still enough for a complete oral exam, not to mention scaling and polishing, probing and measuring gingival pockets and x-rays.

It is surprising how many abnormalities are found on x-rays that we did not expect. Any abnormalities found can be addressed at this time.

Eliminating pain and infection are important reasons to maintain Putter’s dental health. Also possible is secondary damage to other organs, such as the heart or kidneys. This can occur when bacteria from infected and/or abscessed teeth enters the bloodstream.

Home care is important, too. Since tartar can adhere to the tooth surface in 24 to 48 hours, daily brushing is ideal. For pets that will not allow brushing, other options include rinses, treats, gels and special diets to fight plaque.

Occasionally, veterinarians may need to refer cases to a specialist. Board-certified veterinary dentists can perform advanced procedures, including root canals and crowns.

Please have another conversation with your veterinarian regarding his/her concerns about Putter, his dental health and the extent of dental work that might be needed. It really is that important.

If you have a question about your pet, you may e-mail Dr. Myers at