The Paw Print Blog

Pet Parenting Articles

What to Know Before You Visit the Pet Dentist

Severe and untreated dental disease can affect every part of your pet’s body, not to mention that it can be very painful, so a little knowledge is power when it comes to your pet's oral health. If you've ever had severe tooth pain, you can surely relate to what your pets may be going through. They get all the same kinds of tooth problems that people do. Below are some answers to common pet owner questions about dental diseases in pets.

How common is dental disease in pets?

Probably more common than many realize. 2 out of 3 cats and 8 out of 10 dogs older than 3 have some degree of dental disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of dental disease?

There are a number of things that should alert you to dental disease in your pet.

  • Decreased appetite
  • Approaching the food and then backing away if their teeth hurt
  • Chewing with obvious caution and discomfort
  • Dropping food from the mouth
  • Very unpleasant breath odor
  • Pawing at their mouth

What causes dental disease?

The most common cause of dental disease is tartar accumulation. Pets accumulate bacteria on the surface of their teeth, which can mineralize to form tartar over time. Tartar starts at the gums, especially on the back teeth. In severe cases it can cover the entire tooth.

Tartar on the teeth leads to gingivitis or inflammation of the gums. For early disease, a thorough dental cleaning by your veterinarian will lead to a full recovery. This is where prevention with daily brushing and special dental treats can be very important. Your veterinarian can help show you proper brushing technique.

If gingivitis is allowed to progress, irreversible periodontal disease can occur. The bone that supports the tooth is destroyed, leading to tooth loss and infection around the tooth root. Infection may spread deep into the tooth socket, creating an abscess, or it can enter the blood stream affecting the heart, kidneys, and other internal organs.

What should I do if my pet has signs of dental problems?

If your pet has evidence of dental disease you should take them to your family veterinarian for an examination and cleaning. All dental cleanings are done under short-acting general anesthesia. X-rays can help determine if a tooth has disease where the naked eye can't see, below the gums and into the roots. Dental X-rays are a vital part of a dental cleaning.

For complicated tooth issues, go to a veterinary dentist, a specialist in oral surgery and dental restoration like crowns. Many general practitioners do a very good job of cleaning teeth and most routine dental work. A dental cleaning can cost anywhere from a low of $100-200 to several times that for complex or more involved dental work. The costs are usually higher for older dogs and cats and larger dogs.

Prior to the dental cleaning or dental work, a consultation with the veterinarian performing the procedure is usually required. Blood work or other lab tests may be needed before the anesthesia to help plan the safest way to get the job done.

Just as with people, the rate at which tartar accumulates is really variable between individuals. Usually a dental cleaning every 6-12 months is enough to keep your pet's mouth healthy.

What can I do to help prevent dental disease in my pet?

Recent advances in pet foods have resulted in diets that can reduce tartar accumulation. Your veterinarian can give you specific recommendations that can benefit your pets and keep teeth clean between professional cleanings. Dental treats help scrape plaque off teeth and keep them shiny and healthy, too.

One of the most effective ways to keep teeth healthy is to brush your pet's teeth. Toothpastes and brushes are available from your veterinarian or pet retailer and are specially designed for a pet's mouth. Daily brushing should become a regular part of your home health care routine for your pet, along with grooming, exercise, and nail trims. Most pets become quickly accustomed to tooth-brushing and will let you do it very easily. Pet toothpastes are usually malt or chicken flavor, since dogs and cats would probably not enjoy the usually minty human flavors.

With a little work on your part and little help from your family veterinarian or dental specialist, you can help increase your pet's overall health by keeping their teeth and gums healthy. You'll be glad you did, and you'll love the fresh breath and improved health that comes with it.

Leave a Comment
An unknown error occurred while submitting your comment.
Please wait a bit and try again.
Your comment has been successfully submitted and is awaiting moderation.
Check back soon!

I had no idea that the percentages of dental disease in pets, were so high. 2 out of 3 cats really get dental disease? Wow, that is a lot. It looks like I am going to need to cat my cat to its cat dentist to get checked for the disease. It’s better to know sooner than later.

I like how you said, “...a thorough cleaning by your veterinarian will lead to a full recovery”.  My cat’s breath is absolutely horrible, I’m taking him in tomorrow.  I’m sure that after he has a clean mouth, he will smell better.  Eating a protein-based diet can definitely make for stinky breath.  Do you think I should buy a toothbrush for him?

Great article, Tony! I’m glad that I stumbled upon it because I’ve been thinking about taking my cat to the dentist. I think you’re absolutely right: you need to take your animal into the bet if their appetite has decreased. I’ll be sure to watch out for that in my cat. Here’s to hoping there’s nothing wrong with him. Thanks for sharing this article with us!


Your tip to take my dog to a vet if he has signs of gum disease seems like exactly what I should do right now. My dog hasn’t been eating very much, and when I looked at his mouth I saw that his gums were looking much darker than normal. In fact, they’re almost as dark as picture of the dog that has periodontal disease. I don’t want his condition to get that serious, so seeing a vet immediately seems like the right course of action to take care of my dog.

I’ve never heard of anyone using a toothbrush and toothpaste for their dog. We love our poodle, but her mouth stinks. I think we’ll find some dog toothpaste and get to work. Thanks for the tips.

I just adopted a stray cat and have taken it in for all of it’s vaccines. However, I am also considering taking it to a pet dentist for some work to be done on it’s teeth. Would the dentist work on it’s teeth in the same manner that my own teeth would be worked on if I went to the dentist? I am just curious how it all works as I have zero experience with something like this.

These are some really good signs of what to look for when your pet needs to got to the dentist. Sometimes people forget to look for signs that their pets do when they are in discomfort or they are hurting. My dog last week was having a really hard time chewing and keeping food in his mouth. I finally took him in and was really glad that I did. Thanks for posting this great article because it really helped me out.

I really appreciate this information on what to know before taking your pet to the dentist. I have noticed that my dog’s teeth have been looking a little haggard lately so I was thinking of taking him to the dentist. After reading this, you mentioned a lot of the things that I’m seeing as symptoms of dental disease, so I better get him in right away. Thanks for the information!

Thanks for the tips on what to do to prevent a dental disease in your dog. I’m sure a few of these apply to cats, too, like food that reduces the accumulation of tartar. My wife wants cats, that’s why I bring that up. I’ll have to show this to her. Thanks for sharing!

My dog has really, really unhealthy teeth, so I appreciate all of the insight you give here. Specifically, you talk about how if there is evidence of dental disease, it’s probably best to take them to the vet and get X-rays to determine the extent of the issue. Overall, I can see how this will help you to be thorough about your pet’s help and get the quality care they deserve. Thanks!

This may reflect badly on my character, but I didn’t know that dogs needed to visit dentists. Evidently I should take my dog in sometime to get checked out. Hopefully her dental situation isn’t too bad due to my ignorance.

Great post! Thank you for explaining to me what steps I should take when my pet has dental issues. I like how you explained that"your pet has evidence of dental disease you should take them to your family veterinarian for an examination and cleaning. All dental cleanings are done under short-acting general anesthesia. X-rays can help determine if a tooth has disease where the naked eye can’t see, below the gums and into the roots. Dental X-rays are a vital part of a dental cleaning.”. My pets have never had dental problems, but it is good to know what I should do if they ever have problems with their mouth or teeth.

Thanks for sharing about the importance of pet dental care. I can attest to this because our family dog has been having some teeth problems lately. We didn’t realize that we needed to get his teeth cleaned regularly until most of the damage already occurred. We are getting things worked out, but I would have been a lot easier to prevent this problem in the first place. Thanks for the info!

Lately I’ve noticed that my dog doesn’t want to eat quite as much as he used to. I didn’t know that it could be because of a dental disease! I’ll be sure to have them go in and get treated as soon as possible. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for the tips. My dog’s teeth are looking really yellow. I give him dental treats, but they are not working. I think I will take him into the dentist and get his teeth cleaned. I had no idea it could be so cheap.

My dog always drops food from his mouth when eating. I always just thought he was a messy eater, but maybe he has a dental issue. I am going to have to get him checked out. I would hate for him to be suffering! It is good to know these signs so that your pet doesn’t suffer or have to endure any pain!


A lot of people don’t know that their dog can get dental problems just like humans do. If your children had tooth pain, you would definitely take them to the dentist and, hopefully, to regular cleaning appointments to prevent future instances. Your dogs deserve the same attention so their oral health doesn’t suffer!

© PetSafe. All Rights Reserved. Content is provided as a public service. Links and views may lead to companies that may or may not be affiliated with PetSafe or other brands of Radio Systems Corporation.