Tieton Drive Animal Clinic

3901 Tieton Drive
Yakima, WA 98902



Dental FAQs

Q: My dog/cat eats only dry food.  Doesn't that keep their teeth clean?

A: Only insomuch as you eating biscotti cleans your teeth.  When most dry diets are chewed, they simply break apart and do very little to scrape plaque off the teeth.  And if you have ever seen dog vomit, you know that most of their kibble goes down the hatch without being chewed first.  There are some specially developed dental diets (such as Hill's t/d) designed with larger kibble and a matrix pattern that allows the tooth to sink into the food and reduce plaque on the teeth.  Even this is no substitute for regular dental cleanings: it's a part of prevention and should not be used in pets that already have painful dental disease.

Q: My dog chews on bones.  Surely this is adequate to clean their teeth?

A: We really cannot recommend bones as a substitute for dental cleaning.  There has been no evidence in the literature that this is helpful for keeping teeth clean and we are far more likely to see fractured teeth in dogs who chew on bones.  A fractured tooth is a one way ticket to getting a dental cleaning and extraction much sooner than you might have been planning! 

Q: Dogs in the wild didn't get their teeth cleaned and they did fine.  Why does my dog need teeth cleaning?

A: Although wild canids have done well for themselves, they also tend to die of disease, malnutrition, or trauma comparatively young.  The wild life is not for the faint of heart.  Our cats and dogs have the advantage of regular meals, shelter from the elements, vaccines to protect them from infectious diseases, and health care when disease or injury occurs.  They also live long enough that untreated dental disease can become a major source of discomfort and decreasing quality of life.  Part of our bargain with cats and dogs in taking them out of the wild is that we take care of them, and that includes caring for their teeth.

Q: Does my dog really need to be put under anesthesia for dental cleanings?  My groomer/friend/person on the street just chips the tartar off and it looks pretty good!

A: Anesthesia free "dentals" are considered below the standard of care and poor quality medicine.  Chipping obvious tartar off the teeth is purely cosmetic, doing nothing to address diseased teeth or the 70% of the tooth that is hidden by gums.  It is akin to having a perfectly groomed dog with unregulated diabetes simmering below the surface- the dog may look great, but is desperately unhealthy inside.  Because we put our patients under full general anesthesia for our dental cleanings, we are able to truly and safely clean the teeth above and below the gum line, probe the gums for pockets, discover loose teeth or exposed roots, get back to those tiny and difficult to reach molars, take dental x-rays to examine root and bone structure, and extract diseased teeth as needed, all while protecting their airway and preventing pain.  None of this can feasibly be done in a conscious animal, even with the most patient and well behaved pet in the world.

Q: I don't want my pet to have teeth extracted.  What can I do to avoid this?

A: The best thing you can do to avoid extractions is to have regular dental cleanings for your pet before dental disease progresses to the point of permanently damaged teeth.  Leaving unhealthy and painful teeth in the mouth is doing your pet no favors, and modern dogs and cats can live perfectly normal and happy lives with no teeth at all!  In some cases, root canal therapy may be an option for your pet and if you are interested in pursuing this we would be happy to refer you to a veterinary dental specialist.

Q: Isn't anesthesia dangerous?

A: Modern, balanced anesthesia protocols combined with appropriate pain control, pre-anesthetic physical exams, pre-anesthetic blood work, careful monitoring, and IV fluids have allowed us to minimize the risks of anesthesia.  Even elderly pets or animals with other health conditions can be safely anesthetized with appropriate precautions in place.  I would argue that the benefits of a dental cleaning to the quality of life of a pet with severe dental disease outweigh the risks of anesthesia in most cases.