People aren’t the only ones who need dental care to support oral health. By age 3, most pets have some form of dental disease, which can have serious negative health effects if not addressed. Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is a great way to support their dental health, but your pet also needs regular dental exams and may require professional dental cleanings to prevent periodontal disease and infection from progressing.
If your veterinarian recommends a professional dental cleaning for your pet, you may have questions and perhaps even feel a bit nervous. That’s why our team at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center is making it our mission to take the mystery out of the dental cleaning process so you can feel good about supporting your pet’s oral health and overall wellbeing.
What is dental disease in pets?
Dental disease is one of the most common conditions seen by veterinarians and is caused by oral bacteria that deposit plaque on your pet’s teeth. The plaque hardens into tartar in 24 hours unless regularly brushed away, which makes daily brushing important. The bacteria from plaque and tartar can move below the gumline as well, attacking the periodontal ligaments that anchor the teeth in their bony sockets. Periodontal inflammation and infection eventually lead to ligament breakdown, and the affected tooth roots become infected and loose, causing significant pain for your pet—whether or not they show their discomfort. Additional problems caused by dental disease include:
- Damage to the kidneys, heart, and liver
- Tooth-root infections
How do I know if my pet needs a dental cleaning?
Most veterinarians recommend that pet owners have their pet’s mouth examined annually as part of their wellness check. A dental exam is about more than ensuring your pet’s teeth are pearly white and their breath smells good. It also gives your veterinarian an idea of your pet’s overall dental condition and provides you the opportunity to ask questions and receive advice about how to provide at-home dental care for them.
What is involved in my pet’s dental cleaning?
A professional dental cleaning will include the following:
- Pre-procedure medication to help your pet relax — Before general anesthesia, pets first receive medication to help them relax. This reduces the amount of anesthesia needed during the procedure, making the process safer.
- Anesthesia for your pet’s comfort and safety — Pet owners often ask why their pet needs general anesthesia for a dental cleaning. Anesthesia is critical to ensure your pet is safe and pain-free and allows veterinarians to do the following:
- Ensure your pet is comfortable and still
- Prevent debris from entering their airway
- Access the entire oral cavity
- Take dental X-rays
- Clean below the gumline, where periodontal disease lives
Your pet’s safety is of the utmost importance, and your veterinarian will perform a variety of pre-anesthetic tests, including a thorough physical exam and blood work, to evaluate your pet’s health and screen for conditions that could increase their risk from anesthesia. Based on test results, your veterinarian can formulate a customized plan to prevent your pet from feeling any pain or anxiety, while keeping them as safe as possible during their dental cleaning.
- Dental X-rays of your pet — After your pet is asleep and attached to monitoring equipment, full-mouth dental X-rays are taken. As much as 60% of your pet’s tooth structure lies below the gumline, and X-rays allow veterinarians to detect underlying problems, such as abscesses, fractures, bone loss, and root resorption. By reviewing your pet’s dental X-rays and examining their mouth, your veterinarian can note periodontal issues and create a customized treatment plan for your pet.
- Scaling away plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth — Sticky plaque begins to form on your pet’s teeth hours after eating and can harden into cement-like tartar. The cleaning portion of your pet’s dental procedure involves scaling (i.e., the thorough removal of plaque and calculus from the tooth crown, as well as below the gumline.) After scaling, any rough enamel imperfections are polished to ensure the tooth surface is smooth.
- Extracting any of your pet’s diseased teeth — Pets often need teeth extracted to remove an infection source or a painful fractured or decaying tooth. If extractions are necessary, your veterinarian will notify you. Once you give your approval, your veterinary team will use nerve blocks and pain medications to keep your pet as comfortable and pain-free as possible.
- Debriefing to support your pet at home — After your pet’s dental cleaning and recovery period (during which your pet’s vital signs are monitored as they awaken from the anesthesia), your veterinarian will explain what took place, and what you should do to continue your pet’s at-home oral care.
Your pet likely will need their teeth professionally cleaned at some point in their life, and now that you’ve had an inside look at the safe and effective procedure, our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team is ready to schedule their next wellness and dental examination.