Ask the Vet

To fight pet dental disease, have vet clean his/her teeth

Q: “Pepper” is my sweet little shelter dog. We went for her annual check-up last week, and the vet says she needs her teeth cleaned. I always had dogs when I was a kid, but Pepper is the first dog that is just mine. Is (dog teeth cleaning) normal? And why does Pepper need her teeth cleaned? E.R., Farragut

A: If your veterinarian has recommended that Pepper have her teeth cleaned, I suspect there are visible signs of dental disease present.

Tartar, gingivitis, fractured teeth and even loose or abscessed teeth can be detected on a physical exam.

And yes, this is normal. Dental health is important. Eliminating pain and infection are important reasons to keep Pepper’s mouth healthy and clean. Also possible is secondary infection of other organs, including the liver, kidneys and heart.

This can occur when bacteria from infected and/or abscessed teeth enters the bloodstream.

A dental cleaning for your pet is very similar to your own dental check-ups, except that to remove plaque and tartar above and below the gumline, anesthesia is required. Dogs and cats will simply not be still long enough to adequately scale and polish the teeth.

While your pet is anesthetized, a complete oral exam is performed, including X-rays. Any treatments that need to be addressed will be taken care of at this time.

Your veterinarian has likely spoken to you about home care for Pepper. Since plaque can adhere to the teeth in 24 to 48 hours, daily brushing is best. For pets that resist, there are other options including rinses, gels, treats and foods that help fight plaque.

Veterinary dentistry is a specialty in our profession. These board-certified veterinarians have specialized training to perform advanced procedures, including root canal and crowns. Hopefully, Pepper does not need extensive dental work — just routine dental care like us.

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