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The Importance of Dental Care

Dental Disease is the most common disease seen by Des Moines veterinarians. 70-80% of pets over the age of 3 have dental disease.

Dental disease is an often overlooked threat to the comfort and health of your pet. Because dental disease often has few readily apparent signs, bringing your pet in for routine wellness examinations is the best way to ensure detection. While daily brushing is necessary and recommended, it cannot keep all the teeth entirely clean indefinitely. Animals, just like humans, must have a yearly comprehensive oral health assessment, treatment and prevention plan just like we do. After the examination we may recommend a dental treatment schedule, oral home care, or advanced treatment depending on your pet’s dental health needs.

Since much of dental disease is hidden from plain view, our veterinary dentists also use digital dental X-rays to fully examine your pet’s oral and dental health. Two-thirds of your pet’s tooth is below the gum line and so is two-thirds of the dental disease. Digital dental X-rays show us a high-quality image of the tooth and structures below the gum line.

How can I tell if my pet has dental disease?

The first step is to look in your pet’s mouth on a regular basis. If the gums appear red or inflamed, if there’s a foul odor, or if you see pus at the gum line or broken teeth – schedule an appointment to see us right away. Remember that cats have 30 adult teeth and dogs have 42. Just examining the front teeth doesn’t give a complete picture as some of the more severe gum diseases are often found on the molars, which are positioned in the very back of the mouth.


  • Bad breath
  • Yellow, brown or discolored teeth
  • Red inflamed gums
  • Change in eating habits
  • Painful mouth – may growl or snarl if mouth or head is touched
  • Swollen mouth, jaws or gums
  • Excessive drooling
  • Not wanting to chew on toys
  • Dropping food out of mouth when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased grooming – especially cats
  • “Chattering” teeth, especially when eating

Do cats and dogs feel pain like us?

Many owners tell us that they did not notice any change in their animal’s behavior, so they assumed they were fine. This isn’t surprising. Our pets are descended from wild animals. It does a wild animal no good to advertise the fact that it is sick, or to stop eating because its teeth hurt. Most animals simply adopt a stoic attitude to chronic pain. But if you’ve ever had a chronic tooth ache, you know the meaning of pain. Studies have shown that dogs and cats have pain thresholds that are almost identical to humans.

How is the rest of the body affected by bad teeth?

Infected gums and teeth aren’t just a problem in the mouth – the infected teeth or gums can release bacteria into your pet’s blood stream. These bacteria can lodge onto heart valves and infiltrate the kidneys or liver, causing infections. The persistence of an oral or mouth infection causes immune system stress. This makes the body more susceptible to other diseases. The mouth truly is a mirror to your companion’s body. With regular dental care, you can prevent some of these more serious side effects.

Is Dental Home Care Necessary?

Immediately after a professional dental cleaning, the tooth surfaces should be very clean and smooth just like they feel after you get your teeth cleaned. Within hours (not days or weeks or months, but hours), plaque is already starting to accumulate on those freshly cleaned surfaces. When you brush your teeth at night, they are clean. When you wake up in the morning, they are wearing fuzzy little sweaters. That is the plaque that accumulates overnight as you sleep. That is how fast this all happens for your pet too. Both bacteria and plaque buildups are persistent and build a “slime layer” – daily brushing is the best way to remove that slime to prevent tartar and periodontal disease.

While daily tooth brushing remains the most effective (when done properly) means of controlling plaque and maintaining good gingival health, there are a number of products that can also be of benefit. Unfortunately, there are also a number of other products that claim to be of benefit (link)

How do I schedule a dental appointment?

With good dental care we can help your pet enjoy a more comfortable, longer and healthier life.