How often to deep clean my dog's teeth?
January 23, 2021 8:28 AM   Subscribe

YANMV, but does my dog need to get his teeth deep cleaned every year? (deep clean = full dental cleaning, x rays, possible extractions, while under anaesthesia). He's had it this the last 2 years in a row (the second year they had to pull two teeth), and our vet brought up doing it again this year. 5 year old dog, no underlying health problems besides allergies, no mouth pain. This year the vet said he had "moderate plaque buildup." Could we skip this year, actually start brushing his teeth, and get this done every 2 - 3 years or so?

I'm having trouble understanding what's a normal or healthy amount to get this done. On the one hand, it's expensive and we don't like putting him out. On the other, we don't want to ignore any tooth problems until they worsen. I don't remember anything like this happening with our family dog when I was growing up, but vet care is much more involved now so it's hard to know what's reasonable.

Also, our vet recommended brushing his teeth every other day, which we've started then failed at. Beyond keeping at it, do you use any other dental aids for keeping your dogs' teeth clean?
posted by Geameade to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can't speak to the frequency of cleaning - I think we did it with our old dog every few years rather than every year - but we give our current dog these every day. She loves them and they supposedly help keep her teeth clean. (The cats used to get special dental treats, but we couldn't source them after a while and so we just bought a bag of kitty dental kibble and they get a handful every night. They all adore those too.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:10 AM on January 23, 2021

That seems weird if your dog isn't having problems? I've never had any of my dogs' teeth cleaned and vets have not suggested it. My friends don't do it unless their dogs need dental work done. Maybe your dog has something unusual going on, but I suggest getting the opinion of a different vet.
posted by metasarah at 9:23 AM on January 23, 2021 [6 favorites]

I worked in a vet clinic for ~6 years and none of the four vets I worked with recommended annual cleanings. It was always done ad hoc based on an examination during the annual check-up.

I've also never had any of my dogs' teeth cleaned annually. Some clients requested it and we would perform the service, but it seemed unusual to me.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:27 AM on January 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

We've kept dogs for the last 38 years. We're currently on number 5. They all lived healthy lives and lasted 12/13 years. Not one ever had their teeth cleaned or had any dental problems.
posted by night_train at 9:29 AM on January 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

My dog gets cleanings based on how his teeth look at his regular check-ups. He's a small breed with bad teeth and when we first adopted him he had to have multiple extractions. We brush his teeth every day and give him Oravet chews to try to keep on top of it. Those things have been working great and have really kept the teeth cleaner. I highly recommend that you get serious about brushing your dog's teeth. It has made a huge difference for us.

It's true that people didn't used to attend to their dogs' teeth - vets did not recommend it, it just wasn't a thing. But I'm glad we attend to our dog's - he was in a lot of pain from bad teeth when we adopted him and it's clear that he's so much better now that he has regular care.
posted by branca at 9:32 AM on January 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've learned that dogs can avoid getting their teeth cleaned altogether if they get something to chew on every day. A bully stick, Greenies, natural bones, rawhide, No-hides, whatever your dog likes and will actually chew on. Our dog insists on having a variety from which to choose every day. Of course.

In fact, we were able to reverse some pretty bad plaque and avoid a teeth-cleaning by giving our dog something to chew every day. The breeder, who is incredibly fussy about her dogs and taught me the importance of chewing for dogs, has never needed teeth cleanings on any of the dogs she's kept.
posted by DrGail at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

My dog is close to 8 now, and has never has his teeth cleaned. I don't brush them either. Like others above, I give him something to chew on once a day. The vet checks his teeth during his annual visit and has never found plaque or other issues.
Maybe change the diet? It's probably an individual thing for each dog what they do best on. My dog usually gets wet food, sometimes raw food. Very often a carrot which he loves.
posted by mumimor at 10:03 AM on January 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

It really depends on a number of factors - just like people, some dogs just have bad teeth. It can also be related to breed (I've always had greyhounds and they are notorious for bad teeth). If your dog had to have extractions at age 5 that's pretty clear that he's not an "eh, just forget it" dog.

Now, you might be able to extend the time between cleanings with brushing, dental chews, and other at home care. (I even know people in the greyhound rescue world who scale their own dogs' teeth, but that is expert-level and not something I do or would recommend.)

You should be able to say to your vet "Listen, annual dental cleanings seems like a lot. Is this something we could put off this year, especially if we commit to better at-home care, or does he really need this now?" They should explain exactly why they think he needs the cleaning this year, if they insist he does. Even with a breed predisposed to bad teeth and little to no at-home care, so far every 2-3 years is about the norm for me. Maybe I've just been lucky.

Dental care is more than just about the teeth themselves. Periodontal disease can have broader systemic implications, including the possibility of bacteria entering the bloodstream and causing heart disease.
posted by misskaz at 10:06 AM on January 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

My Ollie (13) has awful teeth and gums, the worst I have ever seen on a dog I've had. And our vet office has only recommended they be cleaned three times in the last 7 years. That included extractions. We give him stuff to chew on, we've brushed them. Nothing helps in between. But still, we've only had them surgically cleaned every 2-3 years. On the other hand, his problems started at 8, not 5.

You mentioned allergies so I'll add this: with Ollie, there has been a vague correlation between when his teeth are clean and he has no infections going on, and his allergies being almost nonexistent. It's almost like if one condition starts to flare, his doofy system fails to keep the other condition in check.

Like others, I recommend really talking with your vet about it and asking why. Maybe getting a second opinion.
posted by kimberussell at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Totally depends on the dog. I had one who grew tartar like it was her job and when she got older and stopped tolerating daily brushing, I had to get them cleaned at least once a year or else she would be a mess of rotting teeth and bleeding gums.

Daily brushing makes a HUGE difference and here's a story that proves it. When my current dog was 1-1/2, I had to send him to stay with a friend for two months while I dealt with a health problem. She asked if I brushed his teeth every day, I said yes, and she said okay I will brush them too. His teeth were pearly white when I sent him to her. Two months later I got him back and his teeth were absolutely encrusted in dark brown tartar and when I very gently tried to brush them his gums started leaking blood everywhere. It was horrible. I took him to the vet for a cleaning and recommenced the daily brushing. He just turned 4 and, with no further care other than nightly brushing, his teeth are still perfectly clean and his gums are pink and firm and healthy.
posted by HotToddy at 10:32 AM on January 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Kenobi (8-year-old lab mix) has absolutely horrible teeth, and has since we got him. No amount of OraVet chews (which he gets every day, and has for several years) or brushing (which we do really sporadically when we get a fresh burst of inspiration/resolve, but is...really not successful since he just slurps the toothpaste and doesn’t actually let us do any meaningful brushing) has ever made any difference. I suppose maybe his teeth would be even WORSE if we didn’t do the chews, but they’re certainly not enough (for him) on their own. He’s never had any obvious pain that we’re aware of, but the vet says the plaque/tartar buildup is generally very bad, and he did have to have a few extractions during his most recent cleaning. We’ve had his teeth cleaned under anesthetic twice now (once about 3-4 years ago, and again last year). The new vet we saw most recently in our new town didn’t mention a cleaning as something she suggested for the immediate future, so we won’t do it this year again, but we will ask about it and discuss it with her at his next annual check-up. My suspicion is that we will probably be doing it every two years for as long as we get to keep him with us. Our other dog, on the other hand (3 year-old husky mix), who eats the exact same diet and chews the same chews and has the same bumbling owners, has gorgeous pearly white teeth. Some dogs just have bad teeth, no matter how much chewing, brushing, or dental treats they get. It’s an unfortunate and expensive problem...but absolutely worth dealing with since, as others have said, the bad teeth can absolutely progress into painful and even dangerous things.
posted by Dorinda at 10:51 AM on January 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Just to counter those who said "my dogs have never had their teeth cleaned": I was super lazy/cheap about getting my dog's teeth cleaned, and at age 9 he had got a horrible dental infection and was in major pain and had to have 12 teeth pulled. They had to do it in two separate procedures and it cost me a fortune. I don't know whether you need it *annually* but don't skip it entirely.
posted by radioamy at 11:37 AM on January 23, 2021

It's very dependent on the breed, their diet, and other individual factors unique to the dog.

Mine was a similar breed as Ollie pictured above and also had a lot of dental issues. Brushing regularly (every other day or so) really improved her quality of life because otherwise she'd get inflamed gums and experienced pain when eating or playing with chew toys. She was clearly happier when she had a healthy mouth. But even with regular brushing she still needed a deep cleaning every 12-18 months and did have some teeth extracted.
posted by theory at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

I’ve found that vets vary tremendously both in terms of the frequency with which they recommend this and the amount they charge for it. I did it about every 2 years starting when my dog was maybe 5. So I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast rule here.

The calculus for me was this. It’s moderately expensive (~$300, if they’re charging more, shop around) and being under anesthesia is always a risk. However, dental health is HUGE to dogs’ quality of life, and dogs can’t tell you when their teeth hurt. Chronic dental infections can lead to organ damage and shorten lifespan. Dental cleanings for dogs are preventative healthcare just like they are for humans. Sure, you could skip going to the dentist for your whole life, and you might be fine, but why risk it?

I was willing to invest that amount of money regularly if it meant a bigger chance that she’d have a healthy, pain-free mouth full of teeth for as much of her life as possible. She made it to 13 with every single one of her teeth intact. Also, her mouth smelled AWFUL (in an old dog way) near the end, and I can only imagine how much worse that would have been if she didn’t have relatively clean teeth.

Pro tip, I learned to ask for no opioids (only ketamine) unless they were doing an extraction, since she would get very distressed for the entire day after cleanings while the opioids were wearing off. It made it cheaper and kept her happy and chill. Definitely talk to an actual vet about this because it might just be unique to my situation, but it helped!
posted by quiet coyote at 2:33 PM on January 23, 2021

I think we've had our 4-and-a-half-year-old lab's teeth cleaned once. Other than that, we give her a bully stick most days, and occasionally my wife brushes her teeth (but not on a really regular schedule).

Our cats, on the other hand, needed a ton of dental care after we first got them. We ended up getting most one cat's teeth extracted a couple of years ago, and soon after did the same with the other cat. After this, both cats saw dramatic improvements in both oral health and overall health.

So my experience suggests that, like humans, animals' dental health varies widely. If your pet has chronic dental issues, it may just make sense to get a lot of their teeth extracted, all at once. If not, you likely won't need to do much.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:04 PM on January 23, 2021

There are vets out there who reccomend LOTS of unecessary procedures and medications. In general, I think most vets are good, honest people, but in my 30 plus years of owning dogs I have certainly run into a couple of vets who pushed me to get unecessary services/medication for my dogs. I don't know for sure that that is what's happening in your case, but if I were you I'd find another vet and take your dogs there for this year's annual check up. Don't mention anything about the dental thing and just see what the new vet comes up with. My guess is the new vet won't find any dental issues, and your current vet is one of those rare, dishonest vets taking you for a ride and your poor dog for unecessary surgery. The only other thing I could think of that would require a dog to have this much needed dentistry would be if your dog is ancient and has been fed on nothing but pancakes and syrup all his life. OK I jest, but seriously, the amount of dental your vet is doing seems so excessive to me, especially if your dog is relatively young and hasn't been overindulged with sugary human foods. Definitely try a new vet!

PS I get my dogs teeth brushed at PetSmart once or twice a year. Have never had any dog require dental work ever in my life.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:35 PM on January 23, 2021

You need to have another conversation with your vet about necessity vs. cost. As noted above it could vary a lot depending on your dog. Mine (adopted at 6 and likely fed a lot of human food before that) needed many extractions and still needs daily brushing. Probably another exam/extractions next month. The extractions made an immeasurable difference in his behavior, he had a cracked tooth. Please talk to your vet about options! It could make all the difference.
posted by Red Desk at 2:05 AM on January 24, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! This is very helpful
posted by Geameade at 9:40 AM on January 24, 2021

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