Pet owners may overlook the significance of their pet’s bad breath or picky eating, but those quirks often signal an underlying health issue. When dental plaque and tartar allow bacteria to travel below the gum line, a progressive gateway for dental (i.e., periodontal) disease is formed. The bacteria first affect the bone and tooth attachment structures, which can cause serious pain, and then circulate in your pet’s bloodstream, threatening their major organs (i.e., liver, heart, kidneys). Close to 80% of pets suffer from dental disease by age 3, and while brushing away plaque from your pet’s teeth on a daily basis is superior at-home care, tartar can be thoroughly removed only with a professional dental cleaning.
Our team at Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic recommends an annual professional dental cleaning for all pets by age 2, although some specific pet species, breeds, and sizes, and the presence of underlying health conditions, may require custom recommendations.
You probably realize that humans can sit still better than pets—that’s why anesthesia is used during pet dental cleanings. Beyond that, you may not know why each professional dental cleaning step is critical for your pet’s overall health, so here are the seven steps of a complete dental cleaning, and why each step matters.
- Step 1: Preanesthetic testing to ensure your pet’s dental cleaning readiness — Our team will first evaluate your pet’s anesthesia risk by screening for health concerns with a thorough physical exam and blood work. Based on this testing, we will determine an individualized anesthetic protocol to increase your pet’s safety, while preventing pain and anxiety.
- Step 2: Placing an intravenous (IV) catheter — We use an IV catheter to administer fluids to maintain your pet’s blood pressure and hydration levels, and for the medications that induce anesthesia. Once your pet is sedated, we use an oxygen tube to safely deliver fresh oxygen and anesthetic gas, so they stay comfortable and asleep. Our skilled team uses specialized equipment to monitor your pet for subtle changes in their heart rate, oxygen levels, blood pressure, and temperature.
- Step 3: Charting your pet’s teeth according to full-mouth dental X-ray images — With nearly 60% of your pet’s tooth hidden below the gum line, we need X-rays to assess any underlying periodontal issues (i.e., abscess, fracture, bone loss, cysts, or root abnormalities). Our veterinarian will refer to the images as they cross-examine your pet’s teeth, note periodontal concerns, and develop an oral health treatment plan. All this information will be kept in your pet’s chart.
- Step 4: Scaling away plaque and tartar to prevent disease — The bacteria harbored by plaque and tartar can lead to serious issues, such as infection, tooth loss, and chronic pain. Our team will remove plaque and tartar above and below the gum line with special hand instruments, and an ultrasonic dental scaler that uses high frequency sound waves, heat, and water flow to remove deep debris, and meticulously clean each tooth.
- Step 5: Treating dental infections and performing needed extractions — If our veterinarians see any issues that require further treatment (e.g., extractions, root canals), they will request your permission to proceed while your pet is still under anesthesia. Sometimes, antibiotic gel can be applied deep in the problem gum pocket, and an extraction avoided. Your pet will receive more pain medication for any additional treatments.
- Step 6: Polishing your pet’s teeth to slow future plaque and tartar buildup — Once your pet’s teeth are cleaned, we will polish each tooth surface smooth. We may apply a sealant and enamel-strengthening fluoride, to help protect against future plaque buildup.
- Step 7: Monitoring your pet’s anesthetic recovery period — A dedicated, experienced veterinary technician will monitor your pet’s vital signs, and stay with them while they wake up from anesthesia. Your pet will be kept warm and calm as we transition them to go home. You will be given detailed postoperative care instructions for your pet that will cover temporary diet changes, pain medications, or special product recommendations, such as Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)-approved dental chews, foods, and water additives.
You already know that you suffer without regular professional dental cleanings—so does your pet. However, while you quickly recognize your own oral pain, pets are experts at hiding pain, and recognizing their periodontal disease is much more difficult. Fortunately, dental disease in pets is preventable and reversible, if addressed early.
Each step of your pet’s professional dental cleaning benefits their overall health and wellbeing. Stay ahead of periodontal disease, and call us at Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic to schedule an oral evaluation and cleaning for your pet.