Why Does My Pet Need Dental Cleaning?

Understanding the Importance of Dental Health for Pets

Your pet’s dental health is not just about keeping their breath fresh and their teeth white. Dental disease is a silent threat that can cause significant pain, infection, and even impact internal organs like the kidneys, liver, and heart. By the age of three, a staggering 85% of dogs and cats exhibit some degree of dental disease. Just as humans need regular dentist visits to prevent tartar and plaque buildup, pets require professional dental cleanings to maintain their oral health. While brushing your pet’s teeth at home is beneficial, it cannot replace professional cleanings. Dental cleanings help prevent dental disease, reduce the risk of pain and infection, and ensure your pet’s overall well-being.

Brown Poodle Happy with Clean Teeth

There are several reasons why your pet needs regular dental cleanings:

  1. Prevention of Dental Disease: Pets, like humans, can develop plaque and tartar that lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease. Home brushing is essential but only reaches a portion of the tooth surface. Veterinary dental cleanings, performed under anesthesia, ensure a thorough cleaning, particularly under the gumline, where plaque and tartar cause the most damage. This comprehensive approach is essential for preventing dental disease and its painful consequences.
  2. Avoiding Pain and Discomfort: Dental disease is often painful for pets, affecting their ability to eat, play, and interact comfortably. Regular cleanings help prevent pain and discomfort, keeping your pet happy and active. Pets are adept at hiding pain, and by the time it becomes apparent, the issue is usually severe.
  3. Preventing Systemic Health Issues: Oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream through inflamed gums, potentially leading to severe systemic health problems, including heart, liver, and kidney diseases. Regular dental cleanings help prevent these serious conditions by maintaining oral health.
  4. Detection of Other Health Issues: Dental check-ups provide veterinarians the opportunity to identify other health problems such as tumors, cysts, and abnormalities. Early detection during these exams can lead to more effective treatments.
  5. Improving Breath and Overall Hygiene: Pets with dental disease often suffer from bad breath. Regular cleanings help eliminate foul odors and improve hygiene. Remember, bad breath is a sign of underlying dental problems, not something normal for pets.
  6. Enhancing Quality of Life: Good oral health contributes to your pet’s overall happiness and quality of life. Pets with healthy teeth and gums are more likely to be active, playful, and engaging, enhancing their daily lives and your enjoyment of their companionship.

At WoofDoctor on Wheels, we recognize the crucial role dental health plays in your pet’s overall well-being. We prioritize preventive measures such as routine teeth cleaning, dental x-rays, and interventions like oral surgery and root canals. These interventions alleviate pain, prevent tooth loss, and reduce the risk of internal organ diseases, ensuring your pet leads a healthy and comfortable life.

Curious what veterinary dental cleanings entail? We’re here to provide answers:

Click on each topic to explore in detail!

What Is A Veterinary Dental Cleaning?

A veterinary dental cleaning typically commences with an initial awake oral examination of your dog or cat’s mouth by a qualified veterinarian or veterinary dentist. This allows the vet to assess your pet’s dental condition and provides you with an opportunity to seek advice on home care practices beneficial for your pet.

Before the procedure, your pet will have blood drawn for analysis to detect any underlying health issues that may affect their ability to undergo anesthesia safely. While the idea of anesthesia may cause concern for some pet owners, it’s important to note that under proper protocols, anesthesia is very safe. We encourage pet owners to discuss their veterinarian’s anesthesia protocol and experience before scheduling a procedure.

Pet dental cleaning under anesthesia

During the veterinary dental cleaning, your pet will be anesthetized to ensure a thorough and comfortable cleaning experience. A dental procedure under anesthesia involves a comprehensive assessment known as a COHAT, which stands for complete oral health assessment and treatment. This evaluation is crucial for ensuring thorough dental care and promoting long-term oral health in pets. During a COHAT, your pet will undergo various procedures to address dental issues effectively. These may include:

  • Complete Oral Exam and Radiographs: Each tooth is meticulously examined and probed to assess its health and integrity. Similar to the X-rays you might receive from your own dentist, this step involves a comprehensive examination of your pet’s mouth and the use of radiographs to identify any underlying issues beneath the gum line. Common problems detected through radiographs include broken teeth and roots, periodontal disease, tooth decay, root infections, bone loss, abscesses, or infected teeth.
  • Cleaning Under the Gum Line: Periodontal disease often starts beneath the gum tissue, making it crucial to clean this area thoroughly. This cleaning process is impossible to perform on an awake dog or cat but is essential for removing bacteria and preventing gum disease.
  • Scaling and Polishing: Professional scaling involves the removal of plaque and calculus buildup on the visible portion of your pet’s teeth. This step is crucial for maintaining oral hygiene and preventing dental issues. Following scaling, the teeth are polished to create a smooth surface that discourages plaque and bacteria from adhering, promoting long-term dental health.
  • Tooth Extractions: If necessary, tooth extractions may be performed to address severely damaged or diseased teeth. Veterinarians use specialized instruments and techniques to ensure safe and comfortable extractions for your pet.
  • Pain Management: Personalized pain management protocols are implemented to minimize discomfort during and after the procedure. This may include the administration of analgesic medications to ensure a smooth recovery for your pet.

After the procedure, your dog or cat will undergo recovery and can typically return home the same day. Your veterinarian should provide you with a comprehensive report of their findings and any recommendations for home care to maintain your pet’s oral health between cleanings.

By prioritizing comprehensive dental care, veterinary professionals aim to address underlying dental issues effectively and promote long-term oral health in pets. Anesthesia ensures that these procedures can be performed safely and comfortably, allowing for thorough treatment and optimal outcomes for your pet’s oral health.

Sequence of dental cleaning in a dog

(A) Plaque & calculus-laden right maxillary fourth premolar. (B) Placement of the ultrasonic scaler tip against the crown before activation.(C) Activation and tuning of the ultrasonic scaler to deliver a cooling and irrigation mist. (D) Removal of plaque and calculus. (E) Removal of plaque and calculus from the developmental groove. (F) Cleaned tooth.

What Could My Vet Find During My Pet’s Dental Cleaning?

A veterinary dental cleaning may uncover various surprises that require attention to ensure your pet’s oral health and overall well-being. Some of these surprises include:

  • Deep Periodontal Pockets: These are pockets of space that form between the teeth and gums due to advanced periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth loss if left untreated.
  • Missing Teeth: Dogs should ideally have 42 teeth, while cats should have 30. Missing teeth can indicate previous dental issues or may require extraction if deemed necessary for your pet’s health.
  • Chipped or Fractured Teeth: These can occur due to trauma or underlying dental problems and may require treatment to prevent further damage or infection.
  • Resorptive Lesions: These painful lesions can affect the tooth’s structure and may require intervention to alleviate discomfort and prevent complications.
  • Apical Abscesses: These are collections of pus at the root of the tooth, often caused by untreated infections, and may require drainage or root canal therapy.
  • Malformed Teeth: Abnormal tooth development can lead to dental issues and may require corrective measures to prevent further complications.
  • Discolored Teeth: Tooth discoloration can indicate various dental problems, including decay, trauma, or underlying health issues, and may require treatment to restore oral health.

Fortunately, many of these dental issues can be addressed during the cleaning process. Treatment options may include applying sealants, administering below-gum time-released antibiotics (perioceutic treatment), performing root canal therapy for important teeth, or extracting compromised teeth using advanced oral surgery techniques. Your veterinarian will thoroughly discuss each tooth’s condition with you and involve you in the decision-making process to ensure the best outcome for your pet’s dental health.

Dog fractured tooth

Why Are X-Rays Needed For a Dental Cleaning?

Even when your pet’s teeth appear healthy on the surface, they may harbor hidden dental issues that can only be revealed through dental X-rays. Veterinary studies have shown that a significant percentage of pets with outwardly normal teeth display underlying dental problems upon X-ray examination. In fact, dental X-rays often uncover additional diseased teeth in pets whose teeth seemed healthy to the naked eye.

This diagnostic tool is indispensable for detecting underlying dental issues and guiding appropriate treatment plans for your pet’s oral health. Studies have found that after examining dental radiographs (X-rays) of cats and dogs with teeth that appeared normal, veterinarians discovered diseased teeth in a substantial percentage of cases. Specifically, 27.8% of dogs and 41.7% of cats with outwardly normal teeth had dental problems detected through X-rays.

Moreover, in pets with abnormal-looking teeth, veterinarians found additional diseased teeth in 50% of dogs and 53% of cats. Surprisingly, over 25% of dogs with normal oral exams have one or more problems that are only evident on radiographs. Additionally, more than 50% of cats aged 5 or older have abnormal X-rays.

Dental X-rays are essential for identifying various dental conditions, such as abscesses in chipped or discolored teeth, before any teeth are removed. For instance, missing teeth can develop bone-destructive cysts, highlighting the importance of identifying oral pathology before dental procedures.

By providing a “look into the future,” dental X-rays enable veterinarians to prevent unnecessary emergency dental visits or painful episodes for your pet, ensuring their long-term oral health and well-being. WoofDoctor on Wheels currently only conducts a complete oral exam, not X-Rays at this time. However, we hope to include this service sometime next year.

Pet Dental X-ray

Why is Anesthesia Needed For a Dental Cleaning?

Anesthesia plays a crucial role in ensuring optimal patient comfort and safety during dental interventions for your pet. Dental professionals utilize sharp, sterilized instruments and perform delicate procedures during dental cleanings and treatments, necessitating the need for anesthesia to minimize discomfort and ensure a stress-free experience for your pet.

Moreover, anesthesia facilitates accurate diagnosis and treatment by allowing the veterinary team to perform essential procedures such as dental X-rays with precision and without causing distress to your pet. By ensuring your pet remains still and relaxed throughout the procedure, anesthesia enables the veterinary team to deliver thorough and comprehensive dental care.

Anesthesia is particularly crucial for addressing plaque and tartar buildup beneath the gumline, where bacteria thrive and can cause severe infections if left untreated. With anesthesia, the veterinary team can access these critical areas and effectively remove plaque and tartar, reducing the risk of oral infections and promoting your pet’s overall oral health and well-being.

Dog anesthetized during dental cleaning & fractured tooth extraction

Is My Pet Too Old For a Dental?

It’s a common misconception among pet parents that their pets are too old for dental care. However, age alone should not deter treatment, as many older pets can still benefit significantly from dental procedures.

Regardless of age, pets with significant dental issues can experience improved oral health and overall well-being through appropriate dental care. While older pets may face increased anesthetic risks, the potential benefits of addressing dental issues often outweigh these risks.

Veterinary professionals understand the unique needs of senior pets and can tailor anesthesia protocols and treatment plans to accommodate them safely. Discussing your senior pet’s dental health with your veterinarian allows you to determine the most suitable approach for maintaining their oral hygiene and overall well-being as they age.

Happy senior dog with clean teeth

Other FAQs

How often should my pet have a dental cleaning?

  • The typical recommendation is that dogs and cats should undergo a veterinary dental cleaning annually, starting at around age two, or earlier if any oral health issues are identified sooner. For a lot of dogs, we find that to be a little high. Some dogs may be able to go every other or even every third year. From a financial component, many of our clients find this can work well for their budget and their pet’s health.

Why does my pet’s breath smell so bad?

  • Foul breath in pets often indicates underlying oral disease rather than just dirty teeth. It could be a sign of periodontal disease lurking beneath the gums, which can lead to bone, tissue, and tooth damage. Severe periodontal disease may even affect other organs as it progresses.

Do cats and dogs need the same type of cleanings?

  • While both cats and dogs require regular veterinary dental care, they may have unique health concerns and anatomy. Veterinary doctors experienced in both species can identify specific diseases like feline tooth resorption or oral cancers, ensuring appropriate care for each.

 Why Is Dentistry Different Between Dog Breeds?

Breed-specific dentistry is essential because different breeds have varying dental needs. For instance:

  • Retrievers may experience chipped or discolored teeth.
  • Brachycephalic breeds face slightly higher anesthetic risks.
  • Greyhounds are prone to periodontitis.
  • Small dogs under 20 lbs are susceptible to periodontitis and teeth loss due to thin bone, while breeds like Pugs or Bulldogs may have missing or crowded teeth.

Why are veterinary pet dental cleanings more costly than the anesthesia-free procedures at my groomer or even at my own dentist?

  • The main difference lies in the use of anesthesia, which ensures thorough procedures that pets wouldn’t tolerate while awake. Veterinarians provide professional services with extensive training and experience, prioritizing the pet’s health. While non-anesthesia procedures may seem cheaper, they often lack the quality and thoroughness necessary for proper dental care.

Do cats or dogs get cavities?

  • Dental cavities (caries) are rare in veterinary patients compared to humans. While human adults commonly have cavities, they are documented in only about 5 percent of dogs and are almost nonexistent in cats.

Happy pitbull holding a toothbrush

Why Choose WoofDoctor on Wheels?

At WoofDoctor on Wheels, we are committed to providing comprehensive dentistry for pets as part of our core philosophy of prevention. Here’s why you should trust us with your pet’s dental health:

  • Yearly Anesthetized Dental Exams: We follow the recommendations of the AAHA Dental Guidelines and board-certified veterinary dentists, which advocate for yearly anesthetized dental exams, and cleanings. WoofDoctor on Wheels does not currently conduct X-Rays at this time. However, we hope to include this service sometime next year. Our comprehensive approach ensures early detection and intervention for dental issues. However, we also understand that every pet is unique and cost is an important factor. We discuss all options with pet owners, including whether their pet may be able to receive dental cleanings at a different frequency.
  • Discussion of Treatment Options: We prioritize open communication with pet owners and discuss anesthetic safety, pain relief options, and examination findings to make informed decisions regarding your pet’s dental health. Our goal is to save affected teeth whenever possible, and we involve you in the decision-making process.
  • Tailored Home Care Plan: After your pet’s dental procedure, we provide a practical dental home care plan tailored to your family’s needs. This plan aims to extend the time between dental visits and may include VOHC-approved foods, dental treats, toothbrushing pastes, rinses, and recommendations for safe chew toys. For WoofDoctor on Wheels recommended dental products and other favorite pet products, visit our full list here.
  • Advanced Dental Services: Our practice offers advanced veterinary dentistry services, including routine cleaning and treatment of more complicated conditions. We use techniques such as dental scaling to remove tartar from the teeth’s surface and tooth extraction when necessary to relieve pain or prevent disease progression.
  • Anesthesia for Dental Procedures: We require anesthesia for dental procedures to ensure the safety and comfort of your pet. Before administering anesthesia, we conduct a full physical exam and may run blood tests. Inside the mouth, we utilize anesthetic gel and local anesthetic injections to reduce pain. During the procedure, we closely monitor vital signs, including oxygen saturation, carbon dioxide levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature. Read more about our anesthesia procedures here.
  • We Come to You: Our mobile veterinary service brings dental care directly to your doorstep. This convenience reduces the stress and anxiety that pets often experience during clinic visits. It also saves time for pet owners, making it easier to fit essential dental care into your busy schedule. Studies have shown that pets are generally more relaxed and cooperative in familiar environments, which can lead to better outcomes and a more positive experience for your pet.

How We Address Pain Control:

  • We use various pain relief methods, including local blocks, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), narcotic pain injections, and constant assessment before, during, and after the procedure. We also provide at-home pain relievers as needed.

How We Address Anesthetic Safety:

  • Our staff is trained to safely induce and monitor anesthesia using state-of-the-art monitoring and warming units. We follow AAHA and AVDC protocols and work as a team with certified veterinary technicians. IV catheters are placed in all pets, and fluids are administered throughout the procedure to maintain blood pressure and provide intravenous access for additional drugs.
  • Read more about our procedures and how we handle safe anesthesia here.

Detecting and Treating Dental Issues:

  • While your pet is under anesthesia, we thoroughly examine for dental issues such as periodontal pockets, missing teeth, chipped or fractured teeth, and other abnormalities. Many of these issues can be addressed during the same procedure, involving you in the decision-making process.

Ready to Schedule Your Pet’s Dental Cleaning?

At WoofDoctor on Wheels, we are dedicated to providing the highest standard of dental care for your pet, ensuring their oral health and overall well-being.

If you’re ready to schedule your dental cleaning, please call us at (843) 966-3362

Certified Veterinary Technician Caring for Cat Post Operation


Where Can I Learn More?

Find out more about your pet’s dental health:

  • How to Prevent Dental Disease in Your Pet here.
  • How to Brush Your Pets Teeth & Best Dental Treats here.
  • Watch Dr. Douglas Dean’s Pet Brushing Technique here.
  • For WoofDoctor on Wheels recommended dental products and other favorite pet products, visit our full list here.
  • Learn Why Your Pet Needs Anethesia During a Dental Cleaning here.

If you’re ready to schedule your dental cleaning, please call us at (843) 966-3362.



  1. American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). (2019). AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved from https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/dental-care/overview/
  2. American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). (2020). AAHA Anesthesia and Monitoring Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved from https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/2020-aaha-anesthesia-and-monitoring-guidelines-for-dogs-and-cats/anesthesia-and-monitoring-home/
  3. American Animal Hospital Association. (n.d.). Dental Images – Educational. AAHA. https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/dental-care/educational-images/
  4. American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). (n.d.). American Veterinary Dental College. Retrieved from https://afd.avdc.org/
  5. Azarpazhooh, A. & Tenenbaum, H.C. (2012). Separating fact from fiction: use of high-level evidence from research syntheses to identify diseases and disorders associated with periodontal disease. Journal of Canadian Dental Association, 78:c25.
  6. Gardner, A.F., Darke, B.H., & Keary, G.T. (1962). Dental caries in domesticated dogs. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 140:433-6.
  7. Glickman, L.T., Glickman, N.W., Moore, G.E., et al. (2009). Evaluation of the risk of endocarditis and other cardiovascular events on the basis of the severity of periodontal disease in dogs. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 234(4):486–94.
  8. Hale, F.A. (1998). Dental caries in the dog. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 15(2):79-83.
  9. Verstraete, F.J., Kass, P.H., & Terpak, C.H. (1998). Diagnostic value of full-mouth radiography in cats. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 59(6):692–5.
  10. Veterinary Oral Health Council. VOHC Accepted Products.
  11. WoofDoctor on Wheels. Recommended Dental Products.


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