Ask the Vet Dentist: What Questions Should I Ask My Veterinarian About Pet Dental Health?

As veterinary dental specialists, we want to help pet owners know how they can best partner with their family veterinarian to monitor and improve their pet’s dental health. We understand the main point of contact for most pet owners as it relates to pet health is their veterinarian, so we want to share a few tips on questions that are important to ask about your dog or cat’s dental health and the pet dental cleanings.

Questions About Annual Pet Dental Cleanings

The first, and most important question to ask is if your veterinarian performs comprehensive annual dental cleanings and evaluation under anesthesia. It is impossible to properly clean or diagnose pet dental conditions without anesthesia. The American Animal Hospital Association standard for veterinary practices requires all pet dental procedures and cleanings to be performed under anesthesia, so it is most likely your veterinarian adheres to this standard. There are providers out there who offer anesthesia free dentals, and we can’t emphasize enough the danger, risks and consequences of anesthesia free dental cleanings.

There are some other great questions you’ll want to discuss with your veterinarian about your pet’s annual dental cleaning.

  • Do you take dental x-rays of my pet’s mouth as part of the cleaning? 
    This is an important question, as most pet dental disease or problems lie beneath the gum line including periodontal disease, retained roots, bone loss or other issues. It is important that your veterinarian takes these x-rays so they can identify any problems and address them as early as possible when they are easier (and less expensive) to treat. Learn about veterinary dental x-rays.
  • What steps do you take to make the anesthesia as safe as possible during my pet’s cleaning?
    It is important for you to understand your veterinarian’s anesthetic protocol and experience. They should be able to share their process with you, let you know what steps they take to design a protocol specific to your pet, what type of monitoring equipment they use and if they have a protocol for patients who may carry a higher risk. As veterinary dental specialists, we are each extensively trained in pet anesthesia and design a protocol for your dog or cat that meets the exact specifications for them and their procedure. So, we want to use the appropriate doses so your pet is only under anesthesia for the minimum amount of time necessary to perform the procedure. Most often our pet patients wake quickly and without hours of grogginess.
  • What is involved beyond cleaning my pet’s teeth?
    It is important that the annual dental also include evaluation of the entire mouth as well as each tooth by periodontal probing and with a record of any abnormal findings on your pet’s dental chart to help evaluate success of home and professional dental care over time.
  • How often should my pet have a dental cleaning?
    Pets should have an annual dental cleaning without exception. However, there are cases where your pet may require more frequent cleanings if periodontal disease is impacting your pet’s oral health and can’t be controlled with yearly cleanings.

Other Pet Dental Health Questions

Outside of annual pet dental cleanings, there are many other important things to keep in mind about your pet’s oral health. Here are a few things you’ll want to ask your veterinarian so you can be sure you keep your pet’s smile happy and healthy.

  • How do I perform home dental care for my dog or cat?
    Your veterinarian will share with you the best way to brush your pet’s teeth and should advise you that this should be done daily. We brush our teeth twice a day, and a pet’s mouth is really no different than ours. Daily brushing will help prevent periodontal disease in your pet’s mouth. Here’s how you can brush your dog’s teeth or brush your cat’s teeth. Your veterinarian will also recommend any chews, additives or dental diets that might be necessary.
  • How can I tell if my pet has oral pain?
    Chances are if your pet has a painful dental problem you will not know, as pets hide pain. Your veterinarian should talk to you about the importance of dental x-rays to identify painful issues. However, some signs of oral pain include refusal to eat or your pet not being as playful or energetic as normal.
  • How do I keep my pet’s oral health optimal?
    The main answer should be daily brushing and looking in your pet’s mouth. Even if teeth brushing is not going well, you taking the time to regularly look in the mouth can be lifesaving for your pet because problems detected early can be treated early, effectively and at a lower cost.
  • What are the consequences of untreated pet dental disease?
    Untreated dental disease impacts more than your pet’s teeth, rather it can seriously impact their overall health. In fact, periodontal disease is the number one disease impacting dogs and cats. As disease spreads in the mouth your pet can experience bone loss leading to further damage and infection, which can then spread beyond their mouth. Your veterinarian should share with you that pets who receive regular dental care and treat any disease will live longer and healthier lives.

The most important thing to remember is that there are no bad questions when it comes to learning about your pet’s dental health. It is also important to remember that when there is a dental problem or condition, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist is the most qualified to diagnose and if necessary perform treatment including any necessary oral surgery.