Subscription Services Ending In May. Learn More

Dental Disease… it’s nothing to smile about!


Can you imagine what your mouth would smell and taste like if you never brushed your teeth or went to the dentist? Well folks.... that's exactly what's happening with many pets... the same pets that "kiss" us and our children on the face and lips.

Dogs and cats suffer from dental disease just like people do and it causes more than just stinky breath!

  • It causes a disgusting film of bacteria that not only hardens onto the tooth enamel, but eventually infects the gums and underlying tooth roots.
  • It causes pain. Since pets don't "smile" and show off those pearly whites like people do AND most pets (especially those with painful dental disease) won't let you see what's really going on in the mouth, alot of dental disease goes undetected.

    Take a look at what we vets see regularly during a dental procedure. These are are actual patients seen by me (Dr. Steph) within a week of regular practice, not some collection of worst case patients. Keep in mind, these pets were presented for "routine dental cleanings"  where their owners noted no problems with pain or eating. All pets had to have multiple teeth extracted and ALL owners reported their pet had a much better appetite and was more playful after the diseased teeth were removed. Beware... you may never view those sweet kisses the same again!

    Cat-12 teeth extracted

    Cat- all teeth were extracted

    Cat- 6 teeth extracted

    Dog- 16 teeth extracted 

    Dental disease is one of the most common problems veterinarians see in patients... Most dogs and cats will have some form of disease in their mouths by age 4. Read along to find out the basics of what you really need to know to keep your pet’s mouth healthy!

    It’s more than just bad breath! 

    The unpleasant smell associated with "dog (or cat) breath" is actually a bacterial film stuck to the teeth (plaque) which, left unaddressed, will harden into a shell-like covering (tartar).  Sometimes, the smell can also mean there’s a rotten tooth, oral mass or other problem. Constant exposure to tartar causes infection and painful inflammation of the gums which leads to receding gums and underlying bone and tooth loss. Also of note: Continuously swallowing excessive bacteria from the mouth can negatively impact other parts of the body like the kidneys and heart.


    You want me to do WHAT!?!

    Consistent at-home dental care is one of the most important things pet owners can do for their pets, yet very few commits to it. Why?
    Well, let's be honest... it's HARD!
    • It’s time consuming.
    • Many pets resist it and might even bite!
    • Many owners don’t realize the vital role in prevention of disease.

    Establishing an oral healthcare routine for your pet can help to prevent disease, saving your furry friend from a painful mouth and expensive tooth extractions.
    The purpose of at-home dental care is to prevent the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Once tartar has hardened onto the teeth, it must be scaled off by your vet. No, tooth brushing or "picking" at the tartar during grooming will NOT remove the tartar. Remember, the goal is to get all that plaque off the teeth BEFORE it hardens into tartar!!
    There are MANY products available for at-home dental care and finding the right regimen can take some trial and error (as well as patience) as your pet learns to let you care for his mouth.

    What products to use: 

    It’s important to know that excellent at-home dental care requires a combination of both “mechanical” and “enzymatic” cleansing actions. When possible, select products with the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal.

    Mechanical cleansing involves scrubbing or scraping away plaque build up.

      • Examples: tooth brushing, chew toys, dental chews, prescription or over-the-counter dental diets with specially formulated kibble, dental wipes 
      • A special note about chew toys and dental chews:
        • Do not give items that are hard enough to break teeth or that can splinter (antlers, real bones, hooves, etc.).
        • Use care with dental chews that are not highly digestible (i.e. rawhide-based), especially if your pet is a powerful chewer or tends to swallow large pieces of a product rather than chewing it! These products can cause GI tract obstructions.


    Enzymatic cleansing involves ingredients that kill bacteria and work to prevent plaque from sticking to the teeth.

      • Examples: Toothpastes, oral rinses, water additives, dental gel
      • A special note about toothpaste
        • Only use toothpaste formulated for pets.  Human toothpaste is not okay for pets to swallow and can cause an upset stomach.  Also, some human toothpastes (especially the more natural and children's varieties) contain xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs, even in small amounts.


    If possible, try to select a product or two from both categories (mechanical & enzymatic) to achieve the best cleaning action or pick a product that does both, like tooth brushing!
    VetPet Box makes this easy by providing many of the BEST options to try in an easy monthly delivery (click here)! There are also specialized therapeutic boxes for sale in the VetPet shop.



    To brush your pet’s teeth:

    • Start by getting your friend used to his toothpaste by allowing him opportunities to lick the paste off the brush for a few days in a row.  
    • Once he’s familiar with the brush and paste, lift the lip on the side of his mouth and quickly, but gently, slide the brush between the cheek and the teeth, scrubbing the outer surfaces of the teeth.  Repeat on the other side. Do not try to brush the inside surfaces of the teeth (on the tongue side).  
    • Give your pet a treat and lots of praise for allowing his mouth to be cleaned.
    • Check out the Education Library at to see a video  


    Why veterinarians recommend anesthesia and x-rays, to perform a dental cleaning:   

    It is important to clean under the gum line and to evaluate whether any teeth need to be extracted due to bone loss and infection. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to do this in an awake pet. More times than I can count, a tooth has looked perfectly normal at first glance, but was actually broken or diseased underneath the gums.  Carefully probing around each tooth for "pockets" in the gums and taking x-rays is necessary to fully assess a pet's mouth and to ensure that we are not leaving behind teeth destined to cause future problems.  Also of note, the x-ray probe/sensor that’s used in the mouth costs about $5000 and an awake patient would certainly chomp down and break it! 
    Keep in mind that many veterinary hospitals offer discounts on dental cleanings during “Dental Month” which is usually in February!  

    Other resources:
    Visit the Education Library at  

    • for more information on keeping your pet’s mouth healthy
    • to see videos on how to brush your pet’s teeth
    • to find a list of our favorite oral hygiene products
    • to find a board certified veterinary dentist



    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments must be approved before they are published