What happens during a dental cleaning for dogs and cats?

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Dental care for pets is becoming better known across the country. We are quickly realizing the benefits of proper dental care. Pets live longer when provided with regular dental cleanings and home care.

If you’ve ever been to the dentist yourself, you’ll have a better idea of what happens during a pet’s dental procedure. The main difference is that cats and dogs are typically put under anesthesia to enable a better cleaning and examination of the mouth. Not many dogs or cats will sit still or appreciate having their teeth cleaned and as they cannot simply be told what is happening, as with humans, anesthesia is required.

All veterinary clinics do their procedures differently. However, aside from some slight differences, the overall flow is basically the same.

Most veterinarians require pre-anesthetic blood tests. This is a precautionary measure to help determine if there will be complications with the anesthesia, if drugs need to be altered, or if the dental should be delayed while other underlying problems are addressed.

Assuming the blood tests are normal enough to continue with the surgery, the pet is then anesthetized. There are a number of different drugs on the market and methods for inducing anesthesia vary from veterinarian to veterinarian so be sure to ask prior to having the procedure done if any questions arise.

Once the pet has been anesthetized, a full dental examination is performed. The veterinarian and the veterinary technician work together during the dental procedure. Any abnormalities are noted and are documented in the pet’s medical record. Possible abnormalities include deep pockets in the gum line or missing, broken, crooked or discolored teeth. Oral tumors and other problems are also checked for at this time.

The veterinary technician then performs the dental cleaning. They use an ultrasonic scaler very similar to the one used on human teeth at the dentist’s office. Plaque and tartar are removed from the every surface of each tooth. Subgingival scaling is done, if needed, to remove any debris that may be sitting below the gum line.

Once the teeth have been thoroughly cleaned with the ultrasonic scaler and possibly a hand scaler, any teeth that need extracted are removed at this time. The veterinarian performs extractions using a variety of tools and equipment. Surgical extractions are required for abscessed, large or broken teeth. The degree of difficulty for extractions will vary from pet to pet and depending on the particular situation.

If there are teeth that are suspicious, dental radiographs are usually taken at this time to determine if extractions are needed or not.

Now that the teeth have been cleaned, and any suspicious teeth have been checked and possibly extracted, the veterinary technician polishes the tooth surface with a polisher similar to the human dentist’s. This element of the dental procedure is essential to keep the teeth in their best condition. A special polish is used to make a smooth surface on the tooth. During the scaling process, small grooves are made in the enamel coating on the tooth. Polishing fixes these grooves, making a smoother and hence more difficult surface for plaque and tartar to build up on in the future.

With teeth cleaned and polished, at this time many veterinary technicians will also apply a wax based sealant on the teeth to help reduce the chances of further plaque and tartar build up.

After the teeth have been thoroughly examined, cleaned and polished, the procedure is not entirely finished. Home care is one of the most important aspects of pet dental care and should be discussed by the veterinary professional with the pet owner at the time of the dental. Several options are available today making home dental care an easy part of the overall treatment of your pet’s health.

submitted by Faith Eversole