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Pet Dental Health – What You Should Know About Dental Care in Pets

Most people have experienced a toothache at one time or another. That nagging pain is a sure sign that a visit to the dentist is imminent before the problem worsens. Many of us will do everything we can to prevent dental problems. Brushing, flossing, rinsing, regular cleanings, x-rays, and a healthy diet are all par for the course. When it comes to our pet’s teeth, however, we often overlook dental care as important for their health and wellbeing. Our pets don’t complain much, so we assume those teeth are just fine. However, dental disease is incredibly common in dogs and cats. In veterinary medicine, dental disease is graded on a scale of 0-4 with 0 being no signs of disease and 4 being significant dental problems. Read on to learn the facts surrounding dental health for dogs and cats and what the progression of dental disease looks like if left untreated.

Start Early: Grade 0-1

When a dog or cat has a level 0 or even 1 on a dental evaluation, it means their teeth are in pretty good shape. Level 0 has no tartar, gum disease or bone loss. Level 1 has mild tartar but not significant enough to suspect pain or decay below the gumline. This is the stage where a pet owner can really be most effective at home in preventing dental disease from progressing.


Preventing decay at this stage is simple. The gold standard is daily brushing with a pet-specific toothpaste. Dental chews are a second-best option. Routine check-ups where your pet receives a thorough dental exam will help you stay informed and recognize when it is time to take any further action than brushing.


Grade 1 dental disease is the ideal time to have a routine cleaning performed under anesthesia. Just like humans, yearly cleanings are a preventative step that are relatively straightforward if started early in developing stages of disease. During a dental cleaning, your pet will be placed under general anesthesia and receive a complete oral health exam. Full mouth x-rays will ensure that no problems are found under the gumline. The tartar is removed by ultrasonically scaling the teeth. After scaling, the teeth are polished and a fluoride treatment is applied. Many people wonder why a pet needs to be anesthetized in order to properly clean their teeth. Consider what is involved in your own dental cleaning--holding your mouth open, metal instruments scraping your teeth, holding an x-ray probe in your mouth without moving--all things that a pet would not tolerate while they are awake.

"Grade 1 dental disease is the ideal time to have a routine cleaning performed under anesthesia."

At Home Care

The best course of action following a dental cleaning at this stage is maintaining good habits at home. If started early enough, oral care at home can significantly impact your pet’s long-term health, so creating habits around brushing and frequent checkups are the keys to success at this stage.

Start Now: Grade 2-3

When dental disease progresses to grade 2-3, it means there is a significant amount of tartar buildup. For some pets, the disease has extended below the gum line, and the only treatment is extracting the damaged teeth. This is the stage where you really want to have a professional cleaning and evaluation without delay to stop the progression.


The key to preventing dental disease from progressing to this stage is early intervention. This stage requires immediate action before small problems turn into much larger issues. If you suspect your pet may have some dental problems, don’t wait to have an evaluation. Waiting even a few short months could be the difference between saving a tooth and extraction being necessary.


The treatment process for dental disease grades 2-3 varies significantly, and a lot depends on what is going on under the gumline. There can be teeth that are covered in significant tartar but still clean up well, while other teeth can have significant disease at the root and require extraction. As in grade 1 dental procedures, your pet will be placed under anesthesia and full mouth x-rays taken to determine the best course of action. Any teeth that can be saved will be scaled and polished, and the doctor will extract any severely diseased teeth.

At Home Care

Follow-up care is usually fairly simple and involves implementing a plan at home to maintain any teeth that have been cleaned. Daily brushing and regular checkups remain important. If your pet has had any extractions, you may need to soften their food for a period of time while the extraction site heals.

Don’t Wait: Grade 3-4

When a pet has dental disease that progresses to grades 3 and up to grade 4, it means they have significant disease. Dental extractions are very likely at this stage, and it is important that they receive prompt attention, as abscesses can occur if significant dental disease is left untreated.


It is important at this stage to try to prevent any more disease from occurring resulting in more extractions. While some teeth will likely be removed, the goal is to save as many teeth as possible. Pets who have disease to this degree usually experience discomfort from the decay and can also experience tooth root abscesses which are painful infections that require prompt treatment. Brushing will not be effective for treating dental disease at this stage and professional treatment is necessary.

Pets who have disease to this degree usually experience discomfort from the decay and can also experience tooth root abscesses which are painful infections that require prompt treatment.


X-rays are the best way the veterinarian can know how significant the damage is to each individual tooth. Once the team has a better picture of the severity of disease, they can determine which teeth can be saved and get to work treating the mouth accordingly. Sometimes if the decay has progressed significantly, a pet could be left with very few teeth. However, it is much more important that the decayed teeth are removed than the number of teeth salvaged.

At Home Care

Typically, patients do much better at home than their owners expect them to. Many people are surprised at how quickly their pet bounces back after the procedure and, in many cases, is acting much happier than they were before. Since pets tend to hide signs of pain and illness, once the painful teeth are removed, many people report their dog or cat responds by being happier and more energetic. Pet owners often worry that eating will be a challenge for a pet with few teeth but again, they are usually pleasantly surprised. After extractions, food should be softened for a period of time to allow the extraction sites to heal. After this time, pets typically eat as before with no issues.

The Big Picture

Dental disease is one of the most common health issues experienced by pets during their lifetime. Fortunately, dental disease is treatable and early intervention significantly improves a pet’s long-term health. Early intervention is key when it comes to addressing dental care. If caught early and maintained, pet owners can typically avoid very expensive and painful problems for their pet down the road. During routine exams, our doctors will be able to discuss the health of your pets’ teeth with you and determine if they are a good candidate for a dental cleaning. If you have any questions or concerns about the health of your pet’s teeth, schedule a visit to discuss your concerns.

MAIN STREET VET, PERKIOMENVILLE 1335 N. Gravel Pike, Perkiomenville, PA 18074 Telephone: 610-287-5100

MAIN STREET VET, SOUDERTON 201 North Main Street, Souderton, PA 18964 Telephone: 215-660-3699

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