February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

Did you know that 80% of dogs & 70% of cats have developed some level of periodontal disease by the age of 3? That’s right, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than half the population of companion dogs & cats have some grade of dental trouble. This topic is so important that the entire month of February is dedicated to bringing awareness about it. Being that I work in the veterinary field, I thought it only proper for us to share not only the reasons why annual teeth cleanings are so important for your pet, but all the hard work that goes into helping keep those pearly whites sparkling.

Grades of Dental Disease in a Dog (Credit: Prairie View Animal Hospital)

Teeth are graded in severity from a grade zero to a grade four. Grade zero being so perfect that it isn’t even documented on the scale above & grade four needing a deep cleaning, oral surgery and/or extractions. Dental disease can cause problems for your pets vital organs (heart, liver & kidneys) if not routinely cleaned. Not to mention making it difficult for your pet to eat & weakening its immune system due to to the bacteria entering your pets bloodstream via the oral cavity. Our mouths & our pets mouths are very much alike believe it or not. They feel pain just like we do, so imagine the pain you would feel with an exposed root/nerve! Your pet feels that same pain, they are just able to mask it a little better than we are.

For example, Bane (my rescue pup from Maricopa Animal Care & Control) came to me with red gums, plaque build up on his teeth, & a couple mobile incisors. Bane would still eat, but slower than the other dogs. However, he was insanely grumpy & did not like you to touch his mouth or even pull him from his bed to play. He would growl & snip at you! I took him in for a routine check up with his doctor & she confirmed that he needed a cleaning, & possibly some extractions. Without hesitation, I scheduled a dental & impatiently waited for the day my boy would feel better! Bane’s incisors that were already pretty mobile, fell out as the teeth were being scaled & the rest of his mouth cleaned up nicely. Roughly 2 weeks after his dental cleaning his personality changed. He was playing, not as reclusive, & he was finishing his food BEFORE the other dogs! I contribute this turn around, in-part, to his dental cleaning. His way of telling me he was in pain was marked by his reclusive behavior, nipping, & slow eating habits. Is your pet showing any of these signs?

Bane playing with toys! Something he would never do before his dental!

Maybe Fido has been showing some signs of dental pain or you have been noticing that Kitty has some breath that is more foul than normal. You have heard of dental cleanings before but have also heard the cost of these treatments are astronomical, or the thought of anesthesia for your pet is just too scary. These are all valid concerns! So let me tell you what all goes into the cost of cleaning your pets teeth & what we do at Alta Mesa Animal Hospital to help ease your worries about anesthesia & cost.

We would start off by scheduling your pet an initial exam with one of our amazing doctors. At the time of the exam, the doctor would check your pets teeth & give them a “dental grade” based upon what she sees initially. We would then make you a treatment plan based on your pets dental grade & if you are ok with the cost, we move along to the next step. Based upon the age of your pet, overall health, & physical findings during the exam, the doctor will recommend a specific blood test. A basic CBC (Complete Blood Count) & Blood Chemistry panel will help us see your pet from the inside out. It will indicate organ function, as well as active infection/illness that, sometimes, an initial exam will not show. This tells us if your pet is healthy, his or her organs are functioning normally & will be able to filter the anesthesia properly, which is just one way we help ease your concern about your beloved pet being under anesthesia.

Myself (R) & Jennifer setting/flushing Sheba’s  IV catheter after successfully setting it. Sheba (our friend from Dusty Desert Dogs) was in for a dental & mass removal on this day.

The day of your pets dental cleaning, you would bring your pet in first thing in the morning. The doctor would then do a quick, complimentary exam with you in the room & address any questions or concerns you have at the time. After having you sign some paperwork, we would take your pet back and begin prepping them for their procedure. This begins with getting a T.P.R. (Temperature, Pulse, Respiration). Your pets leg will then be cleaned, & a small part of hair shaved from the leg so that we can set the IV catheter. An IV catheter will administer fluids to your pet during the procedure & give us a direct line to their bloodstream if any life saving medications are needed while they are under anesthesia. Your pet is then given an injectable sedation & once they are sedate, we insert the endotracheal tube which will help supply them with the oxygen & anesthesia during the procedure. Your pets vitals will not only be monitored by our Cardell monitoring system & blood pressure cuff but by a skilled veterinary technician that is physically checking your pets temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate & gum color the entire procedure. Your pets temperature is well regulated by the aid of a Bair Hugger which filters air, then forces warm air through a blanket that covers him/her before, during & after surgery. We will then complete full mouth, digital, dental x-rays to check for anything under the gum line that was unable to be seen by the naked eye during the initial exam. The cleaning & any needed extractions will be completed next. Once finished, your pet is taken off anesthesia, slowly woken up, & placed in recovery where we can continue to monitor his or her vitals until they go home. Of course, if there are any concerns or additional treatments needed for your pet that weren’t previously discussed in the exam room, we will be calling you right away. You can be certain that you will receive great communication from our staff as we care for your furry family member. They are like family to us too!

As you can see here, Sheba is being monitored by her technicians & the Cardell while anesthetized & having her dental x-rays completed. You can see the e.t. tube that is supplying her with oxygen & anesthesia.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard about “anesthesia free dental cleanings” since working in the veterinary field. Will your pet have to undergo anesthesia? No. Is it cheaper? Probably. Safer? No. Better for your pet? Definitely not. When a dental cleaning is done without your pet being under anesthesia, they are literally only scratching at the surface of your pets teeth. X-rays that show loss of gum tissue & bone around the teeth, any holes from the oral cavity into the nasal passages causing nasal discharge, fractures of the jaw following weakening of the jaw bone, & bone infection are NOT done during this type of procedure. Will your pets teeth look better? Probably. But just because the teeth look pretty does not mean they are healthy & these issues under the gum line that anesthesia free dentals don’t begin to address, will continue to plague your pet. Not to mention, the photo below is how they preform these procedures. Does this look safe for your pet? Can you imagine cleaning a cats teeth this way? I can not. Yikes!

Photo Credit: K9 Gentle Dental Anesthesia Free Teeth Cleanings


The good news is, there are ways to help prevent your pet from needing an extensive dental cleaning. Teeth brushing is probably the most common way, but some pets despise having a tooth brush jammed in their mouth. There are dental chews (such as Greenies, Dentahex Oral Care Chews, etc) oral wipes & rinses & dental diets like Hills T/D. Using any of these products daily will help keep your pets mouth cleaner & costs lower when having a cleaning done.

Our dental station at Alta Mesa Animal Hospital showcasing some of our recommended dental health products.

Dental health is so important for our pets & as owners we should be so thankful there are so many ways to help keep those pearly whites sparkling! I can say from experience that my dogs life was changed for the better thanks to his cleaning. As humans, we get our teeth cleaned once or twice a year, practice good dental hygiene & any pain that we feel we get taken care of right away. So why would we not do the same for our pets? The thought of anesthesia as well as the cost of these procedures can be scary for some owners. I totally understand! I waited 6 years to spay Hope because I was nervous about my baby girl being under anesthesia! Not to say there aren’t risks with any surgical procedure, because those are very real. However, those risks are very diminished with all the extra care Alta Mesa & other hospitals provide prior, during & after a procedure. If you would like more information on dental health, please visit Alta Mesa Animal Hospital’s dental care page by clicking the link HERE. If you would like to share your experience with us regarding your pets dental cleaning, please do so in the comment section! Questions are always welcome as well & I will answer them to the best of my ability.


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