What Happens in a Professional Dental Cleaning?

Taking a Bite Out of Dental Disease!

Perhaps you’ve started to noticed a lot tartar on your pet’s teeth or foul smelling breath. Maybe your veterinarian has recommended a dental cleaning in the past. Or after reading “Dental Care – Let the ‘Tooth’ Be Told” you’ve started to wonder what is actually involved in a professional dental cleaning. Well let’s shed some light on what’s involved in a dental to help reduce your worries and anxieties around the entire process.

The goal of a professional dental cleaning, sometimes called a dental prophylaxis, is similar to your own routine visit to the dentist. During your pet’s dental, teeth are thoroughly scaled, cleaned, polished and inspected for disease.

However, our pets cannot be expected to sit and open their mouths during the entire procedure. Therefore, general anesthesia is necessary to perform a proper dental cleaning and oral exam. In fact, this is so important to your pet’s health that, the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO), has deemed it malpractice for a veterinarian to perform a dental cleaning without anesthesia.

General anesthesia is a stress inducing word for many pet parents. Your veterinarian’s goal is to make anesthesia as safe as possible but it does come with its risks. Before considering a dental cleaning, your veterinarian will perform an overall anesthetic assessment. Typically this will include physical examination and bloodwork. If your pet is older, chest x-rays and urinalysis may be included in this assessment.

So what happens once your pet has received the green light for a dental prophylaxis? At most veterinary clinics, dental cleanings are a day procedure.

Let’s get started!

Preparation for your pet’s anesthesia is very similar to what humans would experience. A registered veterinary technician (RVT) will place an intravenous catheter to deliver medications and fluids. Next, a “pre-medication” is given which serves 2 functions – to sedate and offer some pain relief to your pet. Once sedated, an anesthetic drug will be given to make your pet fall asleep. A breathing tube is then placed to protect their airway and to deliver oxygen and gas anesthetic. During the entire procedure, an RVT is monitoring your pet’s vital signs to ensure they are not at any risk.

Much like dental hygienists clean your teeth, RVTs clean your pet’s teeth. Part of a proper dental cleaning should include full mouth dental x-rays. This helps the veterinarian to determine if there is an disease hiding underneath the gums, and to evaluate tooth root health. Typically this is the first step in the dental cleaning.

Following the dental x-rays, the veterinary technician starts by removing dental plaque and tartar. This is done by using hand tools and an ultrasonic scaler. Most importantly, a special periodontal scaler is used to clean along and underneath the gums. This is where oral bacteria do the most damage to the teeth.

After the teeth have been scaled and cleaned, the RVT will perform a complete oral exam.

A periodontal probe is used to probe every tooth to identify any periodontal disease. They are also looking for cavities, fractured teeth and gum disease. Once the technician has completed the oral exam, the veterinarian reviews the x-rays and visually inspects the mouth. If there are no signs of major disease, the teeth with be polished with a rotary polishing tool, just like a dental hygienist does. Finally, the mouth is rinsed, dried, and a fluoride treatment is applied to the teeth.

If your veterinarian determines that teeth need to be removed they will extract them. This is done if the teeth are broken, loose or otherwise unhealthy. In some cases, these teeth can be saved by performing a root canal. To extract the tooth, the veterinarian freezes the tooth and removes it, just like your dentist. In fact, most dogs teeth have longer tooth roots than people and it takes veterinarians longer to remove teeth then dentists!

Get them pearly whites!

Professional dental cleanings are extremely important to your pet’s overall health and well-being. They can be costly but understanding every step in vital to being a well informed pet parent. Routine daily care is key to maintain your pet’s newly cleaned teeth. This includes brushing, specialized dental treats, water additives and toys.

Remember, you get your teeth cleaned twice a year and many pets will require more than one dental cleaning throughout their lifetime. I’ve cleaned my pup Watson’s teeth once a year since he was 3 years old!

Let’s do what we can to take a bite out of dental disease.

About Brendon Laing 7 Articles
Dr. Brendon Laing is a practicing small animal veterinarian with an entrepreneurial spirit who is always looking for new ways to serve pet parents and the community. Dr. Laing received his bachelor’s degree from Queen’s University and his veterinary degree from OVC, where he was the recipient of the prestigious Small Animal Surgery Award from the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. After graduation, he joined his father in practice at Town & Country Animal Hospital, making them a rare father-son team. When he isn’t caring for his patients, Brendon is actively involved in the community; he has been providing veterinary advice as Whistle Radio’s resident veterinarian for the past 3 years and loves presenting to children at his local 4H club. Brendon also currently sits on the OVMA board of directors where he helps shape the future of the veterinary profession. Brendon’s passion for improving veterinary care has driven him to pursue a new practice model aimed at providing on-demand mobile veterinary services. He believes that technology will be the cornerstone of future veterinary practices, enabling veterinarians to surpass the expectations of today’s well-educated and service minded pet parents.

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