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Pet dental care: Does your pet need a dental checkup?

February is National Pet Dental Health Month, an important reminder that your pet's dental health plays a major role in his or her overall health. But how often does your pet really need a dental exam and professional teeth cleaning - and what exactly does it involve?

Below we provide an overview of pet dental care for dogs and cats - including answers to frequently asked questions.

How often should my pet have a dental checkup?

The American Animal Hospital Association recommends regular oral exams and dental cleanings for all dogs and cats. Your pet's teeth and gums should be examined at least once a year by a veterinarian, ideally during your pet's annual wellness checkup. Your veterinarian will check for early signs of problems - such as tooth decay and gum disease - and may recommend a professional teeth cleaning. Depending on the health of your pet, your veterinarian may recommend a teeth cleaning anywhere from every six months to every two years.

What happens during the teeth cleaning process?

Dental cleanings for pets are performed under general anesthesia. This makes it possible for your veterinarian to thoroughly and safely clean the teeth with minimal pain and stress to your pet.

Teeth are cleaned with a scaler that removes plaque and tartar, cleans under the gum line and on all sides of each tooth. After teeth are cleaned they are polished to create a smooth surface that's more resistant to plaque buildup. Depending on your pet's oral health, the veterinarian may also want to take dental x-rays, order bloodwork and do minor oral surgery, such as extractions, if needed.

How long does a professional teeth cleaning take?

A professional teeth cleaning in the veterinarian's office usually takes about an hour. If your pet needs to have any teeth extracted or other minor surgery, it may take up to a few hours. Most pets go home the same day of the procedure, but may feel a bit groggy for the rest of the day due to the anesthesia. Most pets return to their normal diet within 12 to 48 hours after their dental cleaning or procedure.

How much does it cost?

Professional teeth cleaning can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000, depending on the type of treatment your pet needs. Other factors that can impact cost include x-rays, oral surgery and any prescribed medications, such as antibiotics. Many veterinary offices offer dental cleaning discounts during Dental Health Month and other times of the year.

What can I do to help keep my pet's teeth healthy?

Here are three ways you can help keep your pet's teeth and gums healthy between professional teeth cleanings:

  1. Gently brush your pet's teeth with a soft toothbrush and pet-specific toothpaste a few times a week
  2. Offer your pet dental treats and flexible chew toys to help remove plaque buildup
  3. Keep pets up-to-date on preventive checkups with their veterinarian
  4. Dental health is an important part of your pet's overall health. If you notice any symptoms that may indicate poor dental health, contact your veterinarian immediately. These symptoms may include bad breath, bleeding gums, discolored, loose or broken teeth, and pain or swelling around your pet's mouth.

    Keep in mind that you can use your CareCredit credit card for both services and products at participating veterinary practices. Use our handy Acceptance Locator to find a veterinarian near you that accepts CareCredit.

    CareCredit provides information solely for your convenience. Please always consult with a physician on any medical decisions.

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