Get to the root of your pet’s dental health in February

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Did you know that by the age of 2, more than 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats develop some form of dental disease?

Dr. Donnell Hansen

Dr. Donnell Hansen

That’s why the veterinary dentists from BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospitals are reminding pet owners that February is National Pet Dental Health Month – an excellent time to schedule an oral exam that should be conducted while your pet is under anesthesia.

Dr. Donnell Hansen, a board-certified veterinary dentist with BluePearl in Minnesota, said there is a growing trend toward “anesthesia-free” dentistry for pets.  However,  many veterinarians are concerned these treatments don’t address problems below the gum line – where most periodontal disease lives.  Hansen said there’s really no substitution for a thorough cleaning and probing, including X-rays, while the pet is sedated.

Unlike people, dogs and cats don’t understand the concept of “open wide” or how to rinse out their mouths on command.  Also, sedating a pet gives the veterinary dentist a better opportunity to probe for hidden problems and avoid causing pain, Hansen said.

“You can’t do probing on an awake patient, no matter how tolerant they may be,” Hansen said. “Examining the back molars and on the tongue side of teeth is really important.  These are areas that are easily missed on an awake patient.  And imagine how difficult it is to clean these spots, especially below the gum line!”

As an example, take Dice, an 18-month-old cat who was brought to his primary care veterinarian by Twin Cities Pet Rescue to be treated for a broken tooth.  Dice was congested and underweight but rescuers weren’t sure why. It was only after he was placed under anesthesia that it was discovered Dice had a split palate, a potentially debilitating problem.

Hansen was able to repair Dice’s palate, and now rescuers say he’s ready to be put up for adoption.

“We’re very excited that this was caught,” said Betsy Stelck, the medical director for Twin Cities Pet Rescue who is also a BluePearl veterinary technician.  “Now we know Dice will be healthy as we send him off to his new life with an adoptive family.”



Just as in humans, dental disease in pets creates harmful bacteria that can spread to the delicate tissue in the kidneys, heart and brain. Red flags include bad breath, brown teeth, red or swollen gums, drooling and refusing to eat. But by the time symptoms appear, the problem is typically quite advanced, Hansen said.

“Pets typically don’t show signs of oral pain,” Hansen added. “That’s why an annual exam is so important.”

Hansen is one of just 150 veterinarians who are board-certified in dentistry and oral surgery, according to the American Veterinary Dental College. She has advanced training and is experienced in a variety of procedures, including root canals, removing oral cancer and repairing jaw fractures. Like the other specialists at BluePearl, Hansen handles cases referred by family veterinarians.