Dentistry, Why to perform

Why Perform a Dental Prophylaxis?

By Dr. Karen Burgess

Cats and dogs, like humans, are prone to an array of mouth issues ranging from tartar and plaque to retained, extra, missing or even twisted teeth! Dental prophylaxes allow veterinarians to determine the overall health of your pet’s mouth, address any issues and prevent future problems.

Dental Disease
The most common oral problem in dogs and cats is dental diseases. Without proper tooth brushing, the buildup of the plaque, tartar, and bacteria can lead to infection. Over 68% of pets over the age of three have some form dental disease. The most common problems are due to periodontal disease, gingivitis and cervical neck lesions.

Periodontal disease is used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Accumulation of tartar and calculus on the teeth contributes to gum recession around the base of the tooth. Infection soon follows and the gums recede, exposing sensitive unprotected tooth surfaces. Untreated infection then spreads into the tooth socket and ultimately the tooth loosens and is lost.

Dental Prophylaxis
A dental prophylaxis is performed under general anesthesia. Probing and cleaning of the teeth would be impossible, incomplete, and painful without general anesthesia. Once fully anesthetized all teeth are probed and charted. If any abnormalities are noted, such as deep pockets, missing or extra teeth, digital radiographs are then taken.

Digital radiography allows multiple radiographs to be taken in a short amount of time. This provides an abundant amount of information for the veterinarian to use in making recommendations for extractions or possible diagnosis. Dogs typically require anywhere from 0-4 radiographs whereas cats get full mouth radiographs due to their high incidence of cavities.

dental xray

Above is a great example of why preventative care is so important and the reasons to start young. Puppies begin losing their teeth at approximately 3 months of age and should have a mouth full of adult teeth by 6 months.  Around this same time dogs are typically spayed or neutered.  While being spayed/neutered at Healthy Paws Animal Hospital the teeth are counted and we make sure that there are no missing, extra or retained puppy teeth.  Finding the reasons for the abnormalities at 6 months can help to alleviate problems like the above cyst.  For this reason, Healthy Paws Animal Hospital provides spay and neuter estimates with full mouth radiographs listed on the high end.


After all radiographs have been taken and any extractions completed the teeth will then be cleaned with an ultrasonic scalar followed by a fluoride polishing.  The ultrasonic instrument is a vibrating probe which aids in the removal of the tartar on the teeth with minimal damage to the tooth enamel.

Preventative Care/Maintenance
Once the teeth are cleaned it is the best time to begin preventative care.  The most effective way of reducing plaque and tartar is to brush the teeth.  Surprisingly, toothpaste is not required- the abrasion of the toothbrush alone helps to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth.  In addition to brushing the teeth recent advances in nutrition have resulted in diets that reduce tartar accumulation such as Hills t/d® diet.  Preventative care has been made easier with so many options ranging from brushing teeth daily to chew toys or water additives.  One tip of advice:  purchase only products with the below VOHC seal of approval.  This seal indicates that the product purchased has proven the effects of tartar and/or plaque removal.