People often seem surprised when we recommend dental cleanings for their pets. They often note that they have never done this with pets before so they don't know why it is important now. Frankly, it has always been important, but just like so many other medical advances, updated information and better communications from veterinarians has made the information more available to pet owners.
Pets have the exact same tooth and gum structure as people do. Just imagine how bad your breath would smell and how much bacteria and tartar would build up if you NEVER brushed your teeth! Our pets cannot be taught the importance of daily brushing and flossing, so it is up to us to fill in the gap. Not every pet will be compliant with brushing, so there are other options such as dental chews and special food that can help with plaque removal. Unfortunately this will still not take the place of brushing, so professional dental cleanings are the way help keep the teeth in the best shape possible. Again, we go to the dentist every 6 months for cleanings even though we brush our teeth daily. It would be ideal if we could truly do this for our pets, but they are not very willing to sit in the dental chair with their mouth open, so anesthesia is an added necessity. Anesthetic techniques and monitoring is very much on par with human medicine. It is important that your veterinarian perform blood pressure monitoring and that pets have IV fluids administered to make the procedure as safe as possible.
We recommend yearly examinations on all pets because they cannot verbalize any issues that they might be having. During that visit, we examine the teeth and make recommendations. Unfortunately we cannot see every surface of all of the teeth, but we can make generalized conclusions based on how the visible teeth look in deciding if a dental cleaning is necessary.
Keeping your pets teeth clean and healthy makes them feel better and helps maintain general health as bacteria from the mouth can affect organs such as the liver, kidneys, and hearth.
Here is a nice write up from Vetstreet on 5 ways to maintain your pets dental health: http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/5-ways-to-keep-your-pets-teeth-and-gums-healthy-for-life