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What happens when my pet has their teeth cleaned?

dog teeth cleaning

Did your vet tell you that your pet needs a dental cleaning under anesthesia, with possible extractions? This is a common recommendation because dental disease is the number one disease diagnosed in dogs and cats worldwide. Keep reading to learn what happens when your pet is scheduled for a dental procedure.

Why is dental disease so common in pets?

Dogs and cats don’t brush their teeth! And while brushing is the best way to prevent dental disease, every so often, your pet may need scaling and polishing just like we do. Although there are board-certified veterinary dentists that can perform root canals and repair damaged teeth like in human dentistry, most general practice veterinarians will be able to perform a complete dental exam, cleaning, and extract any diseased teeth.

How can the vet tell if my dog needs a dental cleaning?

When you visit your vet, they’ll perform an overall physical exam, including a preliminary oral exam. Your pet’s mouth should be examined at least once a year. Checking the mouth of some dogs and cats is easy if they’re friendly and laid back but may be difficult or impossible depending on the pet’s temperament and level of dental disease.

Some pets may have very painful gingivitis, broken teeth, nerve root pain, tooth root abscesses, etc. Because of this, a full oral exam is performed after the pet is put under general anesthesia. This allows the vet to completely evaluate all parts of the mouth, teeth, tongue, jaw, and hard and soft palates.

Click the links to read about the different dental diseases and disorders in dogsand cats!

Why is bloodwork recommended before my pet’s dental procedure?

Pre-operative bloodwork should always be performed before putting an animal under general anesthesia for an elective procedure. This is to evaluate red and white blood cell counts, internal organ function (liver, kidneys, etc.), electrolyte and hydration balance (sodium, potassium, chloride), and more. Bloodwork is necessary to evaluate your pet’s health, level of anesthetic risk, the ability of the liver to metabolize drugs, the ability of kidneys to excrete drugs, and more.

Should my pet have other tests before her dental procedure?

Some animals may require imaging such as chest x-rays and/or echocardiograms (ultrasound of the heart) prior to being cleared for general anesthesia, especially if a murmur or arrhythmia is noted during the physical exam. Some pets may require abdominal x-rays and/or abdominal ultrasound before general anesthesia if certain bloodwork values are off or the abdomen feels abnormal on physical exam.

Dental Cleanings Are Performed Under General Anesthesia

Your pet will have an IV (intravenous) catheter to administer medications before, during, and after the procedure, as well as fluids containing electrolytes during the procedure.

Vets monitor animals’ vitals during sedation and general anesthesia just like in human hospitals. Heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen level, carbon dioxide level, body temperature, blood pressure, and ECG (electrocardiogram) are all standard.

Under anesthesia, a thorough tooth-by-tooth exam is performed, and the details are documented. For example, the number of teeth present, missing teeth, previously extracted teeth, fractures, resorptions, gingivitis, stomatitis, tartar/plaque/calculus, and more. The jaw is also examined for position and alignment. Underbites, overbites, misaligned jawbones, and misaligned teeth can all lead to further dental issues.

Dogs and cats need dental x-rays too!

Although many small animal veterinary clinics don’t have dental x-rays, they may still perform dental cleanings and extractions of teeth that are easily deemed as diseased or problematic. However, it’s important to understand that without dental x-rays, 2/3 of the tooth, the root of the tooth, and the jawbone are not able to be evaluated.

This means that many teeth that appear “normal” to the naked eye but have underlying disease, can be inadvertently left behind. These teeth will continue to be progressively more infected, painful, and problematic. Dental x-rays are essential to determine the level of dental disease in dogs and cats, address “hidden” disease, and help treat it appropriately.

How are my dog’s teeth cleaned?

Scaling and polishing are performed using an ultrasonic scaler just like in human dentistry. Scaling just under the gumline helps remove tartar and plaque that can’t be brushed away. All teeth are scaled and then polished to smooth the enamel of the teeth. This is important to help prevent any micro-abrasions from attracting further tartar. It’s the same process as in human dentistry.

What happens if my dog needs to have teeth pulled?

Numbing agents are injected into the gums before the extractions in order to prevent pain (even while under general anesthesia). You can ask your vet to save extracted teeth so you can see for yourself the level of disease under the gumline.

To remove certain teeth, the gums may need to be cut like a flap and folded out of the way, then replaced and sutured after the tooth is extracted. All sutures used in dog and cat mouths are always very thin and dissolvable, so that they aren’t painful or bothersome to the pet, and don’t need to be removed later on.

Will my pet need medications after his dental procedure?

Antibiotics and pain medications may be prescribed, depending on the extent of disease. Many vets administer injectable pain medications and antibiotics prior to, during, and after the procedure, followed up by sending home oral medications for a period of time.

What happens after my dog's dental procedure?

Your pet will go home the same day, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Often, dogs and cats will go home groggy, may not necessarily want dinner, and may even be sleepy the next day. This all depends on the pet, the pet’s health, how long they were under anesthesia, and what medications they received.

If any extractions or painful procedures were performed, your vet will often recommend feeding canned or softened food only for several days (no hard food, no hard treats, no bones) until the mouth is fully healed. A recheck exam, usually 3-7 days later, may be scheduled to make sure sutures are all in place and everything looks good.

Read more:

Keeping Your Tiny Dog Healthy: Dental Care Edition

Everything You Need to Know About Your Cat’s Dental Health

Everything You Need to Know About Your Dog’s Dental Health

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