The Vet and Rehab Center of Cape Elizabeth

207 Ocean House Road
Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107


Ask the Vet - Why is Dental Care Important for Pets?

Smiling golden retriever named Casco in Cape Elizabeth


We receive lots of similar questions from pet owners about dental health, so we thought we would put together a few answers! Dental health in pets is important because, in addition to being painful, bacteria from dental disease can be damaging to other organs in the body, like the heart, liver and kidneys. Regular dental care can help protect your pet's overall health.

1. Can dental health be accurately determined during my pet's annual exam?

Cats have 30 teeth and dogs have 42, so it is not possible to see all around those teeth by lifting your pet's lip and looking quickly during wellness exams, especially with wiggly little patients!

There is no way to fully assess the health of pets' mouths without an anesthetized oral exam with dental X-rays. Even with the most cooperative patient, we see only a small fraction of the tooth: the crown is the only visible part, while most of the tooth is hidden below the gum line. Dental x-rays allow veterinarians to evaluate the tooth roots and surrounding tissues. With this tool, we find important painful and treatable conditions such as teeth broken off below the gum line, abscessed teeth, and hidden periodontal disease. Other common issues that show up during dental exams are tooth resorption, malocclusions and teeth worn down to the painful pulp chamber.

2. Do pets and people have the same type of dental disease?

Although humans are prone to cavities, these are seldom seen in pets, as cats and dogs rarely eat sugar.

Pets are much more prone to periodontal disease (bacteria within plaque and tartar, which causes inflammation and destroys the gums and bone that supports teeth. We humans brush our teeth 2 or 3 times daily and have our teeth cleaned by dentists twice a year. Few of us, however, brush our pets' teeth even once daily. But with daily homecare (brushing or VOHC approved dental products, and annual to biannual cleanings, periodontal disease is preventable in pets by removing plaque and tartar before it advances.

3. Can I tell at home if anything is wrong with my pet's teeth?

Cats and dogs cannot easily show us when they are experiencing oral pain, so pet families usually don't know of disease in their pets' mouths. The good news is veterinary doctors and nurses are trained in identifying these issues, educating pet parents about them and advocating for their patients' health. Even so, doggie breath is not a normal condition for man's best friend, but one sign that periodontal disease is at an advanced stage. In addition, decreased appetite, reluctance to chew, and even decreased energy can be signs of a painfully infected or broken tooth, and you should call your vet if your pet shows any of these symptoms. Dental issues are every bit as painful for pets as they are for us, but pets often can't present pain in the same way we do.

Evolutionary survival necessitated that pets' ancestors found a way to eat despite the pain. Under anesthesia however, painful teeth cause the same increases in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure as any other source of pain.

Studies have shown that periodontal disease is found in 80% of pets' teeth by age 3.

Annual to semiannual dental cleanings with your veterinarian, just like what your dentist provides, are recommended to prevent periodontal disease and provide a healthy mouth for life!

Send your questions to:  Ask the Vet! 

Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth

Dr. Ginger Browne Johnson