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Each month, Plano veterinarian Dr. Shawn Messonnier will share his insights on topics of interest to our readers. If you have a concern you would like Dr. Shawn to address, email him at

Each year, we remember the importance of dental health in February as we celebrate pet dental health month. While many still believe that “dirty teeth and bad breath” are simply cosmetic problems in pets, in fact, dental disease is a common cause of illness in pets.

Dental disease, more correctly called periodontal disease, is the most common infection in dogs and cats. It is easily treated and often prevented with the right care. Left untreated, periodontal disease can affect all of the organs in your pet’s body. (In people, diabetes has been recently linked to untreated periodontal disease.) Keeping your pet’s teeth and breath clean and fresh is no longer a matter of hygiene, rather a medical issue that can prevent more serious problems.

I’ve found that most pet owners would have their pets’ teeth professionally cleaned but are scared of anesthesia, especially if the pet is older or suffering from any medical conditions. I’ve also found that many veterinarians do not like anesthetizing older, high-risk patients. Unfortunately, there is no way to properly treat periodontal disease on an awake pet, and there is no reason not to properly treat any pet simply because of a fear of anesthesia.

I recommend several steps to pet owners who want their pets, regardless of the pet’s age or medical condition, to have a thorough dental cleaning.

  • First, to minimize the risk of anesthesia, make sure the pet is properly evaluated before the procedure. This includes a thorough examination and blood and urine testing.
  • Second, find a doctor who practices a more gentle, holistic approach to anesthesia. I’ve found that most pets can be lightly anesthetized rather than put deeply under anesthesia for procedures such as a dental cleaning. This allows minimal amounts of medications to be used, ensuring a safer procedure from which the pet quickly awakens and can go home within minutes of completing the dental cleaning.
  • Third, make sure the pet is properly monitored while sedated or lightly anesthetized by both a veterinary assistant and a pulse oximetry machine. This will ensure the procedure is not harming the pet or causing drastic changes in the pet’s vital signs.
  • Fourth, make sure proper pain medication is administered! Cleaning the teeth can be uncomfortable, especially if severe disease is present or if loose teeth must be extracted.
  • Finally, make sure the doctor does subgingival scaling, cleaning between the teeth and gums and applying a bonding agent (such as Oravet) and a dental antimicrobial to allow the teeth and gums to heal and “reseal,” which will help save the pet’s teeth and prevent extractions.

Dental care is important. Dental infections are easy to treat and can be done safely by following the guidelines I’ve shared with you.

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Dr. Shawn Messonnier

Dr. Shawn Messonnier practices at Paws & Claws Holistic Animal Hospital, the only hospital in Plano focusing on natural healing and natural therapies for dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, and small mammals....