AROUND THE TIME Rachel Cliffton’s
veterinarian mails the annual reminder
for her 9-year-old dachshund, Henry, to
have his teeth cleaned, his “super stinky”
breath underscores the need.
“We tried brushing his teeth, but he
put up quite a fuss,” says Cliffton, who
lives in Montgomery Village. “I just
ended up covered in toothpaste, and
nothing went in his mouth.”
So Henry gets his teeth cleaned pro-
fessionally once a year, under anesthesia.
His last visit cost nearly $1,000—higher
than normal because he also needed two
While professional cleanings are
not cheap ($400-$600), they can help
avert more extensive oral issues, such
as root canals ($1,500-$2,000) or even
the extraction of every tooth (as much
as $5,000). But there’s more at stake than
dental health. Periodontal disease causes
inflammation of the gums, which could
allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream
and create problems with major organs,
including the liver, kidney and heart.
How often an animal needs a
professional cleaning varies, but veterinarians generally agree that it’s
best to start around age 2 or 3. Dogs
tend to need more care than cats, says
Dr. David Vilallonga, a veterinarian at Pet
Dominion in Rockville. If you notice that
your dog is turning its head to one side
while eating, or if your dog’s breath is
Dogs also benefit from good oral care
BY CARALEE ADAMS
especially bad, these may be red flags for
professional intervention, Vilallonga says.
Most veterinarians offer cleanings
under anesthesia. The procedure usually takes 45 minutes to an hour and
involves breaking up, scraping and
removing the hardened plaque. Each
tooth is brushed and polished, and a
liquid coating is applied to protect the
enamel. There are always risks with
anesthesia, which depresses heart rate
and blood pressure, but complications
are rare. With proper monitoring and
pre-anesthetic tests, the benefits outweigh the risks, says Dr. Kendall Taney,
a veterinarian with the Center for Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery in
Gaithersburg. The death rate connected
to anesthesia and pets, adds Taney, is
less than 1 percent.
For owners who are nervous about
anesthesia or don’t want to spend the
money, alternatives are available. Pearly
White Pets in Gaithersburg, for example,
offers dental cleanings without anesthesia
for $249 to $289. Co-founder Gary Albert
says this approach isn’t for every pet;
about 5 percent to 8 percent don’t tolerate being held by the licensed vet techs
for the one-hour service. If dental problems are detected, owners are referred
to their veterinarians for additional care.
“We consider ourselves a supplemental
service in oral care,” Albert says.
Non-anesthesia procedures, Taney
says, are not as thorough and should
not replace a deep cleaning that targets
debris beneath the gums. “In my opin-
ion, it is not suitable for anything more
than cosmetic cleanup of tartar above
the gum line,” she says.
Just as with humans, good dental
hygiene begins at home. Taney recommends brushing your dog’s teeth at least
three times a week with a flavored pet
toothpaste. Taney suggests using those
described as “enzymatic,” to control
bacteria. Never use human toothpaste;
fluoride can be poisonous to pets.
Vilallonga suggests getting into the
teeth-cleaning habit early. “It has to be
a positive action, not forced,” he says.
“Start with a treat or petting the dog.”
He recommends approaching your pet
from behind and using a fingertip brush
to clean the front teeth first, then progressing to the molars in the back.
Another strategy for dogs, Vilallonga
suggests, is to use daily dental chews,
such as OraVet, to help fight against
plaque and tartar. For additional ideas
on diets, treats and other dental-friendly
products, check out the Veterinary Oral
Health Council ( vohc.org).
Cliffton is diligent about Henry’s
regular cleanings, and she notices how
much better his teeth look and how fresh
his breath is afterward. “He’s a good little
dude,” she says. “It’s definitely worth the