Does my dog or cat need to have his teeth cleaned?


If the question is will your dog or cat die immediately if his teeth are not cleaned, the answer is no.  If the question is will your dog or cat be healthier and happier if his teeth are cleaned, the answer is yes.


In modern society, oral hygiene is pretty much expected for civilized people.

Not only has science proven that there are huge health benefits to having clean teeth, it is generally accepted that not brushing in not cool.  To prove the point, we have redneck jokes about lying through your tooth,  a whole mega-billion dollar industry based on fighting bad breath, and yeah, baby, Austin Powers.  

And this is a good thing.  Periodontal disease has a number of serious complications.  Arguably, better oral hygiene is responsible for a large part of the increase in human lifespan we have seen in the last century.

While it does not take rocket science to determine that the dog in the image to the left has big oral health problems, at what stage of dental disease should we start treating your dog or cat?  How bad is bad enough?  In the past, we have been more tolerant of bad teeth in our pets. Many veterinarians will wait until there is massive tartar build-up, along with severe periodontal disease, bone loss, and tooth damage, before they would recommend cleaning.

Would your dentist say, "well, Bob, you are developing periodontal disease which will make your breath smell like a sewer, damage your gums, and eat away the bone that supports your teeth till they get loose and wobbly. But why don't we wait till next year when things have gotten a little worse to start treatment?"

Or would your dentist ever say, "well, Jane, your severe periodontal disease  is showering your body with bacteria and toxins 24/7 causing kidney and heart disease, but after all, you are pretty old and it may not be worth treating you, if you know what I mean."

I don't think your dentist would say that!

Infected teeth, or periodontal disease, start out as mild plaque build-up with mild inflammation of the gums, but no deeper involvement and no loss of the supporting bone.  There may not even be much visible tartar build-up at this stage, and the teeth may appear quite white and normal.

However, there will be a red line at the margin where the gum meets the tooth.  This red is the same red we see when a cut or scratch gets infected, and is called inflammation.  The red tissues may bleed easily when touched.  There may be a bad odor, and translucent plaque may be visible. This is called Stage I Periodontal Disease.

As periodontal disease advances, the infection works it's way down deeper along the tooth roots.  Stage II Periodontal Disease involves loss of up to 25% of the boney support of a tooth.  This is where we start to find deep pockets in the gums around teeth when probed with a dental probe.  There is often visible brownish tartar, and the odor is stronger.  The teeth are not yet loose.


There are more stages of periodontal disease, but I'm going to stop here.  

Why?  Because for our purposes, only the first two matter.  This is because only Stage I Periodontal Disease is truly reversible.  That means that once your pet reaches Stage II, damage has taken place that can never be repaired.  

If you wait until the disease has advanced to Stage II or beyond, there will be permanent gum damage and permanent bone loss.  Once teeth become loose they do not ever "tighten up" again.  And once pockets have formed, they serve as "plaque traps," making it very difficult to keep clean teeth from getting re-infected.


Our goal is to treat Stage I Periodontal disease before irreversible damage happens.

A professional cleaning, followed by some preventative measures, can go a long ways to helping your pet have a healthy and happy mouth. So don't be surprised when we recommend dental work for your pet even if you can't see terrible disease.

At Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic, our goal is to maximize your pet's health and well-being. Early intervention, combined with proper preventative measures, can greatly improve the quality of your pet's life.


I hope you have enjoyed this article on cleaning teeth.

It is very important to focus on the "root" of the problems.  That's a little dental humor.  But seriously, a good dental cleaning starts under the gums.  It doesn't matter how clean and shiny the crowns of the teeth are if there is still disease and infection left under the gums.  There will still be infected teeth leaking toxins and bacteria in the system 24/7.