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If you are looking for physical evidence of the need for a professional cleaning, here are a few considerations:
Halitosis (bad breath) happens because of infection in the mouth. If your pet has bad breath that is a definite indication that it periodontal disease is established. Home care will help, but cleaning is needed.
Tartar, the brown to brownish-gray material that you can see on the surface of teeth, is as hard as cement, and attaches to the teeth so firmly that it is virtually cemented there. If tartar is allowed to accumulate periodontal disease is the inevitable result. Tartar cannot be removed with standard home care such as brushing, oral rinses, or dental chews. It can only be safely and effectively removed with a professional cleaning. If you lift your pet's lips and see tartar, it is time for cleaning.
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. Normal gingiva is a pale to medium pink color in dogs and cats. The edge of normal gingiva tapers down smoothly to the tooth surface, where it is firmly attached. If the gingiva appears red, is swollen so that it's sharp edge is lost, or bleeds when it is touched then gingivitis is present. If gingivitis is present, then periodontal disease is present, and professional cleaning is needed.
Dogs with healthy mouths should be able to chew very vigorously on toys and treats without any bleeding from the gums. If bleeding when chewing occurs the teeth should be cleaned and the mouth examined under anesthesia.
Cats are prone to developing a few different types of inflammatory oral problems that render them very painful. Typical signs include approaching the food bowl but not eating or eating only a bite or two, drooling, halitosis, and hiding in a quiet place rather than interacting with their family. The teeth need to be cleaned and the mouth examined under anesthesia.
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