You know that you should visit your dentist twice a year, in addition to daily brushing and flossing at home. But, what about your pet? Do they require such frequent dental care? Well, the short answer is—it depends. Each pet has individual needs that determine the most appropriate time frame for their professional dental care. While the majority of pets—up to 85%—have some form of dental disease by age 3, virtually every pet has at least some tartar accumulation by their first birthday. A trace of tartar may not be reason enough to perform a professional dental cleaning, but let’s look at the factors that will determine how often your furry pal needs their teeth cleaned.

#1: Your pet’s age

The older your pet, the more likely they are to accumulate tartar faster. A lifetime of wear and tear on the teeth leaves abrasions, divots, and other irregularities in the enamel that attract sticky bacteria-laden plaque. Plus, older pets often have chronic conditions that weaken their immune system, making their fight against oral bacteria more difficult. So, the older your pet, the more frequently they may require dental cleanings. 

However, some young pets also may need more frequent dental cleanings. Your healthy young adult pet likely does not need a dental cleaning more than every one or two years, but young pets who do not lose their baby teeth will need extractions to prevent permanent damage to their adult teeth, and cleanings to help reduce tartar accumulation around the crowded teeth. As your pet grows, Emerald Animal Hospital’s Dr. Anahita will monitor their dental development and determine how frequently they will need cleanings.

#2: Your pet’s breed and size

Certain breeds require more frequent dental cleanings because they are genetically predisposed to poor oral health. Boxers routinely have gingival hyperplasia, a condition that involves gum tissue overgrowth, which creates pockets that trap bacteria. Breeds such as greyhounds, shelties, and dachshunds are more likely to suffer from periodontal problems, despite their long snouts that leave plenty of room for teeth. On the other hand, breeds with flat faces (i.e., brachycephalics), such as pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, and Persian cats, typically have crowded teeth and a misaligned bite, and tartar accumulates more quickly. 

Toy and small breeds are also more prone to dental disease, because their small mouths lead to overcrowding. These breeds are also more likely to hang onto their baby teeth, which further exacerbates crowding. Small breeds’ teeth have shallow tooth roots compared with large breeds, which makes periodontal problems more common.

Many cats develop resorptive disease, an incredibly painful condition that causes enamel erosion, leaves the sensitive nerve exposed, and often progresses to affect all the teeth. Cats with resorptive disease need frequent dental cleanings—biannually, or more often—to eradicate inflammatory tartar and remove diseased teeth.

#3: Your pet’s lifestyle

Your pet’s history, lifestyle, and habits can also influence their need for dental care. For example, cats with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), or feline calicivirus (FCV) can be predisposed to dental disease and stomatitis. Dogs who survived a distemper infection often have weakened enamel, which leads to dental problems down the road. Dogs with powerful chewing habits can do significant damage to their teeth. As enamel erodes or teeth become chipped or fractured, dogs can experience a great deal of pain, and may develop periodontal problems more often. 

At a minimum, your pet needs an annual oral exam to closely evaluate their dental health and determine when they need a professional dental cleaning. If you notice bad breath, tartar accumulation, or other periodontal disease signs, contact our Emerald Animal Hospital team to schedule an appointment.