The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Guest Post: Why have your dog's teeth cleaned by a vet anyway?


Harley 2 Today, we have a guest post from Dr. Rex Riggs, owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is a veterinarian, and an Advisory Board member of Embrace Pet Insurance. Dr. Riggs and one of his vet techs, Ellen Winkler RVT, writes about dental health and teeth cleaning.


If you are ever curious as to what happens if teeth go for years without brushing (or you want to show your children what will become of their teeth if they fail to brush regularly), you have only to look at your pet’s teeth and smell your pet’s breath.

The leading sign of periodontal disease is bad breath. Periodontal disease is a problem that affects 85% of pets by three years of age. Daily tooth brushing and regular dental cleanings are crucial to the health of your pet.


There is little difference between the dog or cat’s tooth and the human tooth. We all have a set of baby teeth that come in and fall out to make way for adult teeth. We all have nerves and blood vessels in our teeth surrounded by dentin, which is surrounded by a hard coat of enamel. The enamel is bathed in saliva and quickly covered by plaque which is bacteria mixed with saliva. If we do not regularly disinfect our pet’s mouths and brush away the plaque, the plaque will mineralize into tartar (also called calculus– the gritty material the dental hygienist scrapes away). The bacteria that accumulate can cause damage by infecting the bone and ligament that holds the tooth in.


Eventually the tooth is lost and, if the bone damage is severe enough, the jaw can actually break. Gingivitis is reversible. Bone loss, once it starts, is not reversible. Worse still, bacteria of the mouth can invade other areas of the body leading to infection in the heart, liver, kidney, or virtually anywhere the blood stream carries them.


It should not be surprising that dental health requires regular professional cleaning. Home care of the teeth, while great, does not replace the need for professional cleaning. The cleaning done performed at your veterinarian is done while under anesthesia and includes many steps.

Here is a brief overview of what is involved in a routine dental cleaning for your pet:


  • Gross (visible) tartar is removed with hand scalers.
  • More delicate tartar deposits are removed from the gum line with ultrasonic scalers.
  • Periodontal pockets are probed and measured to assess periodontal disease.
  • The roots are planed, (meaning tartar is scraped from below the gum line) until the roots are smooth.
  • The enamel is polished to remove any unevenness left by tartar removal.
  • The mouth is disinfected and treated with a fluoride sealer.
  • Professional notes are taken on a dental chart, noting abnormalities on each of the dog’s 42 teeth, or the cat’s 30 teeth.
  • X-rays are taken of any abnormal teeth.


Below are pictures of a before and after of a typical dental cleaning. An abcess shows up as a black halo around the tooth root in an x-ray, which just goes to show the importance of dental x-rays because we could not see this on a normal dental exam.


Fracture tooth

It is important to note that a non-anesthetic teeth cleaning, what groomers sometimes offer, is not comparable to the above service. It is impossible to perform a total cleaning on a pet without general anesthesia. Cosmetic cleanings do not address periodontal disease where it occurs; under the gum line.

Riggs Dr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center with his wife Nancy, their two dogs Boo and Maggie, and two cats Franklin and Speeder. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and enjoys travel and photography.

Mind if we pay your vet bills?

Pet health insurance is administered by Embrace Pet Insurance Agency, LLC and underwritten by one of the licensed insurers of American Modern Insurance Group, Inc., including American Modern Home Insurance Company d/b/a in CA as American Modern Insurance Company (Lic. No 2222-8), and American Southern Home Insurance Company. Coverage is subject to policy terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions, underwriting review, and approval, and may not be available for all risks or in all states. Rates and discounts vary, are determined by many factors, and are subject to change. Wellness Rewards is offered as a supplementary, non-insurance benefit administered by Embrace Pet Insurance Agency in the United States. © 2020 American Modern Insurance Group, Inc.  Wellness Rewards not available in Rhode Island.