Stockton Vet Hospital


News and advice from our experts

Dental disease. Just the tip of the iceberg....

Co-authored by Dr Julia C. Coughlin, DVM.



Did you know that 70-80% of cats and dogs have some degree of dental disease by age 3?  It's a surprising but true fact.

Todays blog is full of facts, information and tips on how to catch, treat and prevent dental disease in your four legged friend.



Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs and cats.  It is also entirely preventable.  Apart from bad breath (halitosis) there are few other signs visible to pet parents that their furry friend has early dental disease, and this means that dental cleaning and therapy often comes too late.    As a result, periodontal disease is often under treated, and may cause more severe problems in the mouth, and may even be associated with damage to internal organs in some patients as they age.

So what is periodontal disease?  It starts when plaque forms on the teeth.  Plaque is a biofilm or mass of bacteria that sticks to the teeth, above and below the gum line, and causes tooth decay and inflammation of the gums.  If not removed by brushing or chewing it will harden into tartar or calculus which attaches to teeth.  Once it has hardened it cannot be removed by brushing or chewing alone.

Once dental disease gets under way, it can cause pain and inflammation, infection in the mouth and in other areas, especially the kidneys and the heart, and overall poor health such as decrease in appetite and weight loss.  Long term or chronic oral inflammation can also cause cells to go though cancerous change.

If my pet has dental disease, what can I do about it?  

Once tartar has formed it can not be removed by brushing alone.  Teeth are cleaned and polished in the same way that your teeth are cleaned at the dentist.  General anesthesia is used for dental cleaning in pets.  This is done for many reasons including safety, reducing anxiety for the patient, better visualization of all surfaces of the teeth and cleaning under the gum line.


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Once the patient is under anesthesia, their mouth can be fully assessed.  Sometimes dental radiographs (X-Rays) are required to assess the teeth below the gum line, the same as in human dentistry.  The teeth are cleaned and polished in the same way that your teeth are cleaned at the dentist.  Sometimes fractures, loose teeth or cavities are found and then the affected teeth are removed.  Pain medication and antibiotics are used for optimal recovery and healing.

At Stockton Veterinary Hospital we take the utmost care in patient safety and evaluation for the need for dental care.  If necessary, we run pre-anesthesia blood work to assess health status and organ function, especially the liver and kidneys which are important in filtering the metabolites from anesthesia.  This can be done a few weeks prior to the day of the dental, or in our in-house Idexx laboratory the morning the patient comes into the hospital.

Some of Stockton Veterinary Hospital's extensive in-house Laboratory Equipment.

Some of Stockton Veterinary Hospital's extensive in-house Laboratory Equipment.

Once the patient comes into Stockton veterinary Hospital for their dental care, they are re-evaluated and premedicated - another way of reducing stress in the hospital environment.  An IV (intravenous) catheter is placed in a vein in their leg for administration of anesthesia, antibiotics (if necessary) and pain meds (if necessary).  Once the patient is under anesthesia, an endotracheal tube is placed in their airway to secure the airway and to protect it from saliva, moisture or bacteria being cleaned from the teeth.  Each patient is also monitored during anesthesia with a Pulse-Oximeter (measures heart rate, the oxygen saturation of the blood, respiratory rate and patient internal temperature), an ECG monitor and a blood pressure monitor, by a trained and competent Veterinary Technician.

The teeth are then checked, probed, x-rayed if necessary, scaled, polished and sometimes extracted.  And then we are done!  The patient is recovered on a "hot dog" - not an edible treat, but a special patient warmer that improves recovery time and patient comfort.

99% of our dental patients go home the same day.  If there is any reason that a patient requires a high level of pain management or monitoring we will keep them safe and secure over night.

Once the patient goes home, if they had some dental extractions, they may need soft food for 5-7 days - either wet food or their normal kibble soaked in warm water to soften it up.  

Here are some before and after pictures of canine and feline oral disease.

It is recommended to brush your pet's teeth daily.  Don't be discouraged or feel guilty if your pet will not tolerate this!  Not every pet will allow their teeth to be brushed and these are the pets that will benefit most from dental cleanings with anesthesia.

It is easiest to teach young puppies and kittens to enjoy toothbrushing.  When trying to teach an adult dog or cat to enjoy toothbrushing, it is best to start slow.  First, have your pet lick a flavored toothpaste off your finger for a few days/weeks.  Next have them lick it off the toothbrush if you plan using one.  The next step is just to brush one or two teeth a day starting with the big fang teeth (canines) or incisors.  Eventually work up to brushing half the mouth in a sitting.  The goal is to be able to brush the outside of all of the teeth once a day.  Remember to give your pet lots of loving praise with each step.  The whole process may take a month or more but patience and practice make perfect!

Human toothpaste is not safe for animals because it is not meant to be swallowed and can be toxic.  Only veterinary toothpastes should be used.  We recommend dental cleaning products that contain chlorhexidine.  This is a safe antiseptic that will help kill the bacteria in your pet's mouth that cause disease and bad breath.  It comes in toothpastes, rinses and wipes.  We recommend CET-brand toothpaste which contains chlorhexidene.  It is offered in many flavors that pets enjoy such as peanut butter and chicken.  It even comes in vanilla mint flavor which makes doggie kisses even better.


You can clean your pet's teeth using either a special pet toothbrush, a soft bristled baby toothbrush, a finger brush or a gauze wrapped around your finger.

Another way to clean your dog's teeth is to take advantage of their love of chewing!  American-made compressed rawhides (some even contain chlorhexidine!) or chew toys used daily can help scrape tartar off teeth.  Smear some doggie toothpaste on the chew before giving it to your pet for an added cleaning bonus!  The American Veterinary Dental College does not recommend using cow hooves, dried natural bones or hard nylon products.  These are too hard and associated with broken teeth or damaged gums.  Remember that pets should always be monitored while chewing a chew treat or toy.


If you have any questions regarding your pets dental care, or wish to have a dental check up, feel free to call and discuss the matter with the staff, we can make your pet smile!  We would be happy to help!

Stockton Veterinary Hospital



"The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man."

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