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They say the cutest mouths are the smelliest. Well, at least, I say that. Our tiny dogs are cursed with teeth that are crowded together and easily collect plaque and tartar.

It’s no wonder we so often see toothless Chihuahuas with their tongue hanging out. While it’s a cute look, we have to take good care of their teeth to protect their body from oral bacteria – which can spread to their heart, liver, and kidneys.

I’ve written about brushing and other at-home dental care must-haves before, but even with careful maintenance, you will probably still need to get a professional dental cleaning for your dog once in a while.

I was seriously afraid of having Matilda’s teeth professionally cleaned, but her teeth were getting worse and worse, despite regular brushing. Now, I’m glad that I finally took her to the vet for the works. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

Is Anesthesia Safe For Tiny Dogs?

Smaller dogs are more likely to get an overdose of anesthesia during a dental cleaning, but this is incredibly rare. Obesity and advanced age are also risk factors.

Always follow the instructions you’ll be given when scheduling your dog’s dental. You may not be allowed to give your dog food and water after dinnertime the day before the procedure. If your dog eats or drinks water, they can vomit and aspirate during the procedure.

Typically, your vet will do bloodwork before a dental procedure, but I always ask about it to make sure. Pre-anesthesia bloodwork can pick up any unknown health issues that can cause a bad reaction to anesthesia.

When Should My Dog Have Her First Dental?

Matilda had her first dental cleaning at around 4 or 5 years old. It was an emergency due to a loose, rotten tooth that needed to be extracted. At the time, I felt awful that despite trying to take care of her teeth, she still lost a tooth, but I was afraid to take her in for a professional cleaning.

Knowing what I know now, I may have taken her around age 3. That’s probably when she started to develop tartar. Starting to go for dentals when your dog is young makes sense because you can see how she reacts to anesthesia and how she does afterwards.

What’s more, untreated dental disease leads to an overload of oral bacteria, which travels through the body and puts a strain on your dog’s kidneys, heart, and liver.

How Much Does It Cost?

A typical dental cleaning without extractions may cost anywhere from $400 to $1200, depending on your veterinarian and where you live. Your local humane society may offer low cost dental services.

It’s expensive, but dental care can lead to a longer life and fewer costly vet bills down the road. If you wait until your dog needs extractions, the cost will skyrocket.

How Often Do Dogs Need Dental Cleaning?

Matilda had her first cleaning at about 4 years old, and recently had her second at 6.5 years. It felt like a good time-frame for us. She had developed moderate tartar even with semi-regular brushing, but didn’t need any other extractions.

Your dog might need a cleaning as often as every 6 months, but might be able to get away with going every 2-3 years.

Is It Really Worth It?

YES. When you brush your dog’s teeth, you remove that sticky, transparent layer of plaque before it turns into tartar. Once your dog has those hardened, yellowish tartar deposits, you’re not going to be able to remove them at home.

If you have trouble affording a dental, do your best to care for your dog’s teeth while you save up, look to your local rescue or humane society to see if there are any low-cost dental options available to you, and monitor your dog’s teeth for rotting, wobbling, bleeding, and odor.

Matilda’s teeth are completely white and tartar-free. It’s hard to believe there were clean, healthy teeth under all of that yellow tartar.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.