Dentistry (Dental Disease, Prevention and Surgery) - Petaluma Veterinary Hospital

Veterinarian doing dental surgery at Petaluma Veterinary Hospital.

Imagine what your mouth would feel like if you didn’t brush your teeth or go to the dentist. Most likely you’d have bad breath, gum problems, sensitive teeth, and could be facing a host of other health problems related to your oral health. You may even have painful teeth and gums that make chewing and other natural activities difficult.

You need to maintain your oral health throughout your life as a core step to maintaining your overall health. This means regular dental checkups and dental cleanings are a must.

But many cats and dogs face a painful reality in which their owners don’t know enough about or can’t afford proper dental care for their pets.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats suffer from dental disease by age three. This makes dental or periodontal disease the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets today. Luckily, you can easily avoid becoming a part of this statistic by scheduling regular pet dental appointments at Petaluma Veterinary Hospital.

Pet dental appointments can be affordable and hassle free if you schedule them with your annual vet examination appointment. This can prevent you from having to spend money on expensive veterinary dental care down the line that may become necessary due to poor dental health.

There are common signs of animal dental disease that your veterinarian will want to check for during any oral health care appointment. These include:

  • Yellow or brown buildup (tartar) on teeth
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling
  • Changes in eating or chewing habits
  • Pawing at the face
  • Loose teeth
  • Depression

But don't wait until your dog or cat is suffering from these symptoms to schedule a pet dental exam. Even if your dog or cat doesn’t have symptoms, we recommend that you have us evaluate your pet’s dental health at least once a year. Bacteria and food debris accumulate around the teeth and, if left unchecked, will lead to deterioration of the soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. The decay can result in irreversible periodontal disease, tooth loss, and possibly expensive oral surgery.

Your pets can't tell you if they are suffering from a dental disease. In fact, you may not notice that your pet is in need of dental care until they start to show symptoms of other illnesses.

Dental disease can also affect other organs in the body. Bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause serious infections in the kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart. If these problems aren’t caught and treated quickly enough, they can result in death. A physical exam combined with appropriate laboratory work can determine if infection in the mouth has spread.

Fractured teeth, gingivitis, and tooth infections are some of the most common forms of dental complications with pets. There are also diseases specific to cats and dogs that your pet may suffer from, such as feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions which destroy healthy oral tissue. What’s even worse is that, if left unchecked, your pet’s oral health could affect their overall health and wellbeing through illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, kidney problems, blood infections, and poor appetite leading to malnutrition.

Veterinary dentistry isn’t all about disease either. It can also include regular pet dental cleanings and checkups that help to ensure your pet is in proper dental health. Veterinary dental surgeons provide pet dental services like extracting cracked or broken teeth, removing cysts or abscesses, and removing retained teeth. If you are a new pet owner, schedule a visit with your veterinary dentist sooner rather than later in order to get them started off right with great dental health.

Schedule a veterinary dental care visit with one of our veterinarians today!

We do routine cleaning, digital radiographs, (ideally full mouth on patients to find problems/disease below the gum line) and extractions. For root canals or more elaborate work we will refer you to a few veterinary dental specialists in our area.

We also can show you how to brush your pet’s teeth, and can recommend foods and treats that will help combat plaque and tartar buildup. You already know how important it is to make your own dental health a priority, don’t forget to make the dental health of your pet a priority as well.

Dental Care Guidelines

10 things you need to know about AAHA’s Dental Care Guidelines​​​​​​​

Contrary to popular belief, “doggy breath” is not normal. If your cat’s bad breath keeps the two of you from snuggling or you wish you could give your dog a mint, it could be the first sign that he has dental disease, a painful condition caused by bacteria infecting his gums and teeth. What’s even worse, it can lead to serious health issues as infection spreads throughout the body.

Since maintaining oral hygiene is crucial to keeping cats and dogs healthy and happy, AAHA created dental care guidelines to help your veterinarian provide top-notch care. Here are the top 10 things you need to know about these guidelines:

  1. Dental disease begins early in life. Cats and small dogs can begin to develop dental disease as early as nine months old. By the time they’ve reached their third birthday, most dogs and cats begin showing signs of dental disease, such as bad breath, yellow tartar buildup on the teeth, and red, swollen gums. Left untreated, throbbing pain and inflammation can cause pets to drop food, drool excessively, paw at their mouths, or become reactive to petting. But, because most dogs and cats are experts at hiding pain, many suffer in silence.

  2. Early detection is key. As a part of your pet’s annual veterinary checkup, AAHA recommends dental evaluations at least once a year when your cat or small breed dog reaches one year old, or when your large breed dog turns two.

  3. “X-ray vision” is essential for diagnosing dental disease. After examining dental radiographs (X-ray images) of cats and dogs with teeth that appeared normal to the naked eye, veterinarians found 27.8% of dogs and 41.7% of cats had diseased teeth. In pets with abnormal-looking teeth, veterinarians found additional diseased teeth in 50% of dogs and 53% of cats.1

  4. Anesthesia makes dental evaluation and treatment safer and less stressful for your pet. Animals don’t like to hold still while their teeth are cleaned. Anesthetized dental cleanings allow veterinarians to make a more accurate diagnosis and decrease the chance of complications, like inhaling water or bacteria produced during the cleaning.

  5. Anesthesia is much safer than you think. AAHA’s guidelines include steps to increase the safety of anesthesia, even in older pets. For example, one trained professional is dedicated to continuously monitoring, recording vital signs, and communicating the findings to the veterinarian. Before anesthesia, your pet will also be carefully screened with bloodwork and other tests to ensure he is free from underlying disease.

  6. Removing plaque from teeth beneath the gums is vital. In fact, it’s even more important than scaling the portion of the teeth we can see. Bacteria thrive under the gumline, causing infections deep in the tooth root and jaw that can spread throughout the body and affect other organs, such as the heart or kidneys.

  7. There are many similarities between human and veterinary dentistry. Licensed veterinarians and credentialed technicians use sharp, sterilized instruments, just like those you see in your dentist’s office. Board-certified veterinary dentists go through extensive residency training to perform advanced procedures like root canals, tooth extractions, and crowns. You might even feel the same sense of guilt when your veterinarian asks, “How often do you brush his teeth?” as when you’re asked, “How often do you floss?”

  8. Your veterinarian may create a personalized pain protocol to keep your pet comfortable. Although your dog or cat will be anesthetized during a tooth extraction, numbing medications will decrease the amount of general anesthetic needed and can last up to eight hours after the procedure, allowing your pet to rest in comfort. Your veterinarian can tailor your pet’s prescription pain medication to match the procedure so he’ll recover peacefully at home.

  9. Don’t forget to brush! Brushing your cat or dog’s teeth every day will promote good oral health and prevent potentially expensive surgeries down the line. It’s easier than you think: There are even special pet toothpastes flavored like beef, chicken, fish, and peanut butter. (Note: Never use human toothpaste, which can contain ingredients like xylitol that are toxic to animals.)

  10. Consider using other dental products if brushing isn’t an option. Oral rinses, gels, sprays, water additives, and chews can help with your pet’s dental hygiene. Be sure to look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval on all pet dental products, and be wary of any dental chew that doesn’t bend or break easily as these can fracture teeth.

What to ask your veterinarian about your pet’s dental care:

  • Who will be monitoring my pet’s anesthesia? Who will be performing the dental cleaning or, if needed, the dental extractions?
  • What type of pain management will you use before, during, and after the procedure?
  • What should I expect from my pet after this procedure?
  • What complications should I watch for?
  • What should I feed my pet afterward?
  • How do you recommend I care for my pet’s teeth between dental cleanings?


  1. Verstraete FJ, Kass PH, Terpak CH. Diagnostic value of full-mouth radiography in cats. Am J Vet Res 1998;59(6):692–5.