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Preventing Dental Disease in Your Pet

Dental Disease is a common and often overlooked problem in pets. While cavities represent the most common dental disease in humans, dogs and cats are more frequently bothered by tartar buildup on the teeth. Tartar accumulation leads to irritation of the gums around the base of the teeth, ultimately leading to the exposure of the roots.

Contributing Factors

Unfortunately, one of the main contributing factors to the amount of tartar buildup in pets is the individual chemistry in their mouths. Some pets need yearly cleanings, while other pets only need a cleaning only once every few years. Maintaining yearly check-ups for your pet(s) is a great way to monitor the rate in which their teeth acquire tartar build up.

Diet plays more of a minor role in the development of tartar accumulation than most people think. Because dry food is not as sticky as canned food, it does not adhere to the teeth as much and, thus, does not cause tartar buildup as rapidly. However, eating dry food does not remove tartar from the teeth. Once tartar forms, a professional cleaning is necessary. For cats, Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus may also be a contributing factor to dental disease.


Proper cleaning of the teeth requires complete cooperation of the patient so that plaque and tartar can be removed properly. Because of this, we perform our dental cleanings while the patient is under full anesthesia to ensure the teeth are thoroughly cleaned. Many owners have a high degree of anxiety related to general anesthesia for their pets. While there is always a degree of risk with any anesthetic, be aware that delaying proper dental care may ultimately compromise the pet’s health as well.   

To minimize risk, Westside Veterinary Clinic uses modern anesthetics that are deemed safe even for older pets. Also, depending on the pet’s age and general health status, a pre-anesthetic blood chemistry panel may be required prior to anesthesia. This simple blood panel will check the function of the kidneys and liver, as well as the packed cell volume to check for anemia or dehydration. Intravenous fluids are also strongly recommended and are sometimes required in order to help maintain blood pressure and normal hydration levels throughout the procedure.

There are four steps in the cleaning process that will be used on your pet:

Scaling – Ultrasonic tools are used to remove the tartar above and below the gum line.       

Polishing – This smooths the surface of the teeth, making them more resistant to additional plaque formation.

Flushing – This removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to decrease the amount of bacteria in the mouth.

Fluoride Coating – This decreases teeth sensitivity, strengthens enamel and decreases the rate of future plaque formation.

Preventative Measures

Seeking regular veterinary care and having the teeth cleaned when advised are the most important steps. It is also important to try to maintain an at-home dental care routine. Westside has special toothbrushes, flavored toothpastes and water additives available for your pet. We are happy to discuss creative techniques with you to aid in at-home care as well.

Finally, tartar control diets from Science Diet and Royal Canin as well as OraVet Dental Hygiene Chews are available for order/purchase at Westside Veterinary Clinic. Tartar control diets can be used as a maintenance diet or as a treat; however, keep in mind that the diet will not clean the teeth but may help prolong the interval between professional cleanings. OraVet Dental Chews are a great daily treat for your dog that contain the enzyme Delmopinol, which helps to cut down existing tartar as well as prevent new tartar from forming and also help to combat bad breath. FBN   

Dr. Jenny Siess

Dr. Jenny Siess was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to Flagstaff in 2003. She enjoys areas of veterinary medicine such as surgery, exotic animal practice and wellness/disease prevention. She currently resides in Flagstaff with her fiancé, four dogs, six cats and ball python. Westside Veterinary Clinic is located at W. Route 66 Building 2, Suite 230, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001. For more information, call 928-779-0148.

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