Routine dental care is essential to maintaining good oral health, preventing bad breath, and tooth loss. This care should include home care, as well as professional dental cleanings (under anesthesia). Professional dental cleanings will remove plaque and calculus (tartar) ABOVE and BELOW the gumline, where periodontal disease originates. Anesthesia-free dental cleanings do not clean below the gumline, thus providing a false sense of security while allowing significant tooth decay to proceed unchecked. Plaque can form within 24 hours and calculus within three days, therefore homecare after a dental cleaning is essential.

“Small dogs are NOT little big dogs”

It has been reported that many dogs less than 10 lbs. have bone loss at just one year of age. Without proper therapy and homecare, it is not usual for small dogs younger than four years old to lose many of their teeth to dental disease. Other high-risk breeds include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Greyhounds. Several well-known consequences of periodontal disease in small breeds include oronasal fistulas (a hole between the nose and mouth), serious eye conditions and loss (due to the proximity of the tooth roots to the eyes), and pathologic jaw fractures – where periodontal disease weakens the jaw to the point where the jaw can break with minimal force, such as eating or playing. Periodontal disease can also lead to deep bone infection (osteomyelitis), increased risk of oral cancer and numerous systemic problems (such as cardiovascular (heart), liver, and kidney issues). Most importantly, research has shown that patients who receive regular dental cleanings lived longer than other pets.

When should dental care begin?

All pets should have home care started by six months of age. Due to their unique anatomy, exotic breed cats and small/toy breed dogs should have their first professional dental cleaning performed at 9 – 12 months of age, and then every 6 – 12 months thereafter. Domestic breed cats and large breed dogs should have their first dental cleaning at 2 – 3 years of age and annually thereafter.

Should I be worried about anesthesia?

It is quite common for pet parents and some veterinarians to want to avoid anesthesia in older animals or those with systemic disease, however times have changed. Most pets (despite advanced age or systemic disease) can still undergo anesthesia, provided it is properly performed and monitored. Additionally, many pet parents report positive changes to their pet’s demeanor and energy levels following a professional dental cleaning and therapy.

*Much of this document is based on the booklet “Small Dogs are NOT Little Big Dogs” by Dr. Brook Niemiec and can be read in its entirety at