Does my dog need their teeth cleaned? Periodontal Disease

canine teeth cleaning Dunedin Florida

Does your dog’s breath smell like rotten tuna in a hot dumpster? It doesn’t have to, and it shouldn’t. In fact, your dog’s breath is a good indicator of their overall health.

Most pet owners think that they cannot do anything about their dog’s bad breath and are unsure when their pet’s teeth should be cleaned – if ever. The fact is, bad breath is not only fixable, but it’s also preventable.

Like people, a dog should have their dental health evaluated regularly, because bad dental health effects your dog’s OVERALL health. The fix is as simple as a professional teeth cleaning.  The process is actually pretty easy, and rather affordable.

Periodontal Disease

If you see brown plaque or tartar on your pet’s teeth, you should have the teeth evaluated.  All the brown you see on the outside also occurs underneath the gum line leading to disease.  Many pet parents notice that their dog’s breath has gotten intolerable and those doggy kisses are not as pleasant as they used to be.  When you bring your dog to the veterinarian, he or she will be evaluated for gingivitis (redness of the gums)and dental calculus. Gingivitis or gum redness is the primary sign that a dog should have its teeth cleaned.

Many veterinarians offer procedures to clean your dog’s teeth.  The most important part of the teeth cleaning process is taking dental x-rays. As we said, most of dental disease is below the gumline and is not readily visible to the naked eye.  Periodontal disease, tooth root abscesses, jaw fractures and even tumors can be seen with dental x-rays alone.  If a veterinarian recommends that your dog have a teeth cleaning, the first thing you should ask is if they will perform full mouth dental radiographs first.  If the office does not perform full mouth dental x-rays, it may be best to wait and bring your pet somewhere where this will be done.  Dental radiography is an absolute necessity to practice veterinary dentistry.

Here, at Dunedin Animal Medical Center, we will perform a dental examination and consultation before any service.  We will perform a full physical examination and concentrate on your pet’s oral health.  The veterinarian will examine the teeth and gums to evaluate your pet for any disease before the procedure.  No matter how good a dental examination your pet has, we will still not know how much dental disease is underlying without a full oral assessment and dental radiographs under sedation.  At the dental consultation, we will also discuss what bloodwork may be needed before your pet undergoes anesthesia.


When your pet has their teeth cleaned, we give them medications to sedate them before the procedure.  This includes a pain medication so that there is no discomfort during the cleaning process or afterwards.  We will place an IV catheter and provide IV fluids during the procedure as well.  During the procedure, we monitor the patient’s heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygenation levels and perfusion.

Once the patient is asleep, we will fully evaluate the oral cavity.  We examine each tooth for gingival pockets and tooth fractures, the entire mouth for any evidence of cancer and intra-oral radiographs.  Once we have fully evaluated the mouth, if there are any treatments needed, a veterinarian will contact you and discuss all the findings thoroughly.  The veterinarian will make sure you understand the treatments and only move forward once you have approved the plan.  If the veterinarian recommends extracting (or pulling) teeth, we will provide the best of care and follow up the extraction with x-rays to make sure the tooth has been cleanly removed.

The next step is the actual cleaning of the teeth. This step is important, but the evaluation and treatment of the teeth is the most important part.  Rarely in veterinary dentistry is there a “routine dental cleaning”.  Because of pets do not brush their teeth daily, most pets have some degree of gingivitis or periodontal disease.  Pets need a thorough cleaning above and below the gum line (supragingival and subgingival) with an ultrasonic scaler.  If a thorough subgingival cleaning is not performed, the teeth may look beautiful, but the debris below the gum line will cause severe periodontal disease.  It is important that your pet’s airway be protected during the cleaning process.  Without anesthesia, a tracheal tube cannot be used to make sure that the debris and water from cleaning does not enter the lungs.

After the teeth have been thoroughly cleaned, we polish the teeth and apply a fluoride treatment.  We then allow the patient to wake up comfortably and make sure they are bright and alert before their discharge home.  When you pick your dog up from our facility, a veterinarian will discuss the dental x-ray results with you and give you a care plan.  If your pet’s gums were infected, or diseased teeth needed to be removed, you will likely notice a significant improvement in their attitude the next day.  We have many owners tell us how much better their pet feels now that they have treated their pet’s periodontal disease.

We always recommend follow up appointments to make sure your pet is doing well after their dental cleaning and we love to hear your success stories! Many owners ask us how often their pets should have a pet teeth cleaning.  The answer is based on each pet’s level of disease and needs.  This can range from every 6 months to once every few years.  Twice yearly dental examinations by your veterinarian are the best way to make this decision.


Periodontal (gum) disease is a result of neglected oral health. If preventative dental health and periodontal therapy (scaling, root planning, curettage, and extraction of teeth) is ignored, your pet may become more susceptible to other health complications.  In fact, your pet’s teeth may be more important to their overall health than most pet owners realize. For example, bacteria in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body and cause infections and even cancer, so keeping the mouth healthy will help keep your pet’s body healthier. Good dental hygiene can lead to a longer, healthier life for your pet.

Keeping your pet’s mouth clean and healthy can help them live longer. Good oral hygiene also helps prevent diseases or secondary infections, such as liver, heart, kidney, and joint disease, which originates from bacteria in the mouth, which spreads through the body, via the bloodstream.

Dog Heart Disease

Bacteria from dental disease can go right into the circulatory system.  There is evidence that periodontal disease is linked to cardiopulmonary diseases like endocarditis, according to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA).

A good number of canine patients at Dunedin Animal Medical Center show early signs of both periodontal disease and heart disease, concurrently. While it can be tough to determine cause and effect, it’s so common that we have to assume there is a correlation.

It’s best to get a professional cleaning of your dog’s teeth sooner than later, as dogs with both dental disease and heart disease may be unsafe to anesthetize, which is necessary to fully clean the teeth and gums.

Diabetes in Dogs

Nice dog preparing for insulin injection with medical vial and syringe at veterinary clinic. Vaccination, World rabies day and pet health care concept. Selective focus.

Diabetic dogs tend to have higher levels of periodontal disease, and the two conditions feed on each other, in a vicious cycle.  The more severe the periodontal disease, the more serious the diabetes gets, thereby worsening the periodontal disease, and so on.

It’s not always possible to determine which came first—the periodontal disease or the diabetes—but inflammation and infection associated with periodontal disease can affect blood-sugar metabolism.  Inflammation and infection decrease the body’s sensitivity to insulin, a primary hormone involved in blood-sugar regulation.

Pain That You Can’t Detect

Your dog cannot tell you that they are in pain, and many dogs deal with it as though it’s an ordinary experience.  However, continuous, increasing levels of pain can make them irritable and unpredictable. A good indicator that a dog is in pain is how they eat their food: Biting on a painful tooth is easy to avoid, simply by not chewing.  Dogs who eat hard food without chewing (‘inhaling their food’), is a rather obvious sign that they have some dental pain.

Most pet parents only notice the bad breath caused by plaque, but that alone is reason enough to have your veterinarian examine your dog’s teeth.  By the time serious signs start showing, it is usually too late to the save the tooth, and there is a high likelihood the pet has been living quietly in pain for quite some time.

Tooth loss is NOT normal, as long as routine dental care is observed.

Dental Disease Can Also Lead to a BROKEN JAW

Amazingly enough, poor oral hygiene can actually lead to a broken jaw in dogs -specifically smaller breeds with disproportionately large teeth, such as ChihuahuasLhasa ApsosMaltese, and Shih Tzus.

Infection in a dogs mouths can weaken their jaws, and something as simple as jumping off the couch can lead to jaw fracture.  Fortunately, it’s not common,, but as an emergency animal hospital, we’ve seen it.  It is serious and very painful, and because the bone is not healthy, healing can be very difficult.  Jaws that fracture due to periodontal disease are a challenge, due to the lack of good quality bone, as well as the lack of teeth.

Sometimes fractures can even happen after teeth have been removed. This is because, without teeth, the lower jaw is weak.

Taking Care of Your Dog’s Teeth Can Prevent Health Issues

The most effective way to ensure good health in your dog is to maintain a regular oral hygiene regimen, including regular cleaning of your dog’s teeth and gums.  You should take your dog for annual oral exams, with a full tooth-by-tooth exam and dental X-rays.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council lists foods, treats, chews, toothpastes, sprays, gels, powders, wipes, toothbrushes and water additives that have been scientifically tested and are approved for dogs and cats, she adds.

Taking caring of your dog’s oral hygiene is about much more than clean teeth and fresh breath – It’s about GOOD HEALTH.