Primary Care

Dental Care

Dogs and cats don't often get cavities. However, they do frequently suffer from other types of dental disease. Periodontal or gum disease, in fact, is the number one illness found in both dogs and cats.

What you need to know about dental care for your pet

  • Dental disease can cause serious problems ranging from gum inflammation, pain, infection, tooth loss, and even organ damage.
  • Up to 80% of dogs and 70% of cats that don't receive proper dental care will develop signs of dental disease by the age of three.
  • Dental disease can be minimized with regular dental examinations, home oral hygiene, and periodic dental cleanings by your veterinarian.

The dangers of periodontal disease

Without proper dental care, your pet will experience bad breath, inflamed gums, missing, loose, or broken teeth, as well as the associated pain and discomfort. Dental disease can also lead to systemic health problems in dogs and cats. The good news, however, is that dental disease is prevented by regular dental examinations, home care, and dental cleanings. What is periodontal disease? Periodontal disease is an infection caused by oral bacteria found in dental plaque. It often begins with a yellow-brown discoloration on the teeth. Without regular dental cleanings, this plaque builds up and thickens into tartar. Tartar can erode the gum tissue, where bacteria then become trapped and cause infection. If left unchecked, periodontal disease can lead to serious pain, infection, and tooth loss. The infection can also result in bacteria entering the bloodstream and damaging other organs or body systems in your pet. It can also complicate other underlying diseases, such as diabetes or chronic sinusitis.

Canine dental cleaning - before photo
Canine dental cleaning - after photo
Prevention is the best answer

While the damage caused by periodontal disease is sometimes irreversible, it can be halted with antibiotics and regular cleaning. It is always preferable to stop the disease before it starts!

Regular cleanings

Beginning at age one, your pet should have an annual dental examination performed by your veterinarian as part of their wellness exam. Some pets will have evidence of periodontal disease even at this young age. If indicated, a thorough professional cleaning removes plaque and tartar both above and below the gum line. This proactive treatment is aimed at maintaining the natural oral defenses so that periodontal disease and other dental problems have a harder time becoming established. A good home oral hygiene program can tremendously extend the positive effects of a professional cleaning.


The most effective home oral hygiene is daily brushing with a soft toothbrush. There is no better way of removing bacteria and plaque to prevent progression to tartar/calculus and periodontal disease. Ask your veterinarian for tooth brushing tips. We can also provide special brushes, toothpastes, oral gels, and oral rinses specifically made for pets.

Dental diets

Dry food is generally better than canned for mechanical crunching and scrubbing of teeth. However, you'll get the best results with specially formulated foods, treats, and oral chews that have been proven effective in combating plaque and tartar buildup. Ask our staff for specific recommendations.

Signs of poor dental health

  • Bad breath
  • Visible tartar on the teeth
  • Swelling under the eyes
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Discharge from the nose
  • Drooling or excessive salivation
  • Pawing at the teeth or mouth
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth
  • Red, irritated, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and loss of vitality

What should I do about broken teeth?

Broken teeth with an exposed inner pulp cavity can be painful for pets and can lead to chronic infection, abscess formation, and loss of secondary teeth. Rapid endodontic treatment by a board-certified veterinary dentist can salvage the health of a broken tooth. If rapid treatment is not an option, a board-certified veterinary dentist can perform a root canal to save what's left of the broken tooth and prevent it from becoming infected. When root canal is not an option, the tooth should ultimately be extracted.

I'm not sure I can afford dental cleanings every year.

While dental cleanings may seem like an added expense, they're a very cost-effective investment in your pet's health. Caught early, dental problems are easy to treat. Neglected, they can turn into serious, costly, and painful problems. In addition, many pet health insurance and wellness plans now include coverage for dental care which helps to minimize any associated cost.  

Does my pet need to be anesthetized during cleanings?

Yes. Pets do not tolerate thorough oral examination and care the way human patients do when visiting their dentist. We need to anesthetize pets to access and evaluate the entire mouth and gums, as well as block the patient’s airway from bacteria and debris in the mouth traveling to the lungs. Anesthesia allows our team to perform the necessary work thoroughly and safely. Your veterinarian will recommend pre-anesthetic testing to make sure there are no hidden health problems that could affect your pet's ability to undergo the procedure.

VCA Pet Tips:

  • Older pets may need dental cleanings more frequently than once a year.
  • Small breeds of dogs are particularly prone to dental disease.
  • Dental disease can cause loss of appetite and weight loss, especially in older pets.