Pets are excellent at hiding signs of discomfort, including oral pain. Dental disease is remarkably common in pets, and significant pain, bad breath, major organ system damage, and reduced quality of life can result as disease progresses. To help prevent or slow the onset of dental health issues, your University Veterinary Hospital team recommends a professional dental cleaning for all pets by age 2, and then periodically throughout their lifetime, depending on species, size, breed, and individual health traits. But, what does a professional dental cleaning actually include?

During a professional dental cleaning, your pet will be anesthetized to facilitate a thorough examination, cleaning, and treatment. After all, you can’t ask your pet to hold their mouth open, or to bite down gently on the X-ray film. Once they are under anesthesia, their teeth are cleaned, X-rayed, thoroughly examined, and treated for any existing problems. Here is a breakdown of the 10 steps involved in a professional pet dental cleaning.

#1: Pre-anesthetic pet examination and blood work

When your pet comes in on the morning of their procedure, a veterinarian will perform a complete exam, listen to their heart and lungs, take basic vital signs, and ensure your pet is ready for anesthesia. Blood work is typically also performed within a month, to ensure your pet is a good anesthetic candidate. 

#2: Placement of pet IV catheter and anesthesia induction

An intravenous (IV) catheter is placed in your pet’s front or rear leg to allow the veterinary team venous access. Your pet may be sedated prior to IV placement, to ensure the process is stress-free. Then, medication is given through the IV to induce anesthesia, a tube is placed in the airway to deliver oxygen and gas anesthetic, and heart rate, oxygen levels, blood pressure, temperature, and more are closely monitored by a dedicated veterinary technician. IV fluids are typically given throughout the procedure, to help with hydration and blood pressure.

#3: Full-mouth pet dental X-rays

The first step of the dental cleaning is obtaining X-rays of each tooth. Sixty percent of the tooth lies hidden below the gum line, so X-rays are necessary to see the tooth roots. Unless disease is advanced, most pathology is not readily obvious on oral exam, but can be seen easily on X-ray.

#4: Pet teeth scaling

Dental scalers are used to clean plaque and tartar adhered to the visible tooth surfaces. Most often, an ultrasonic scaler that employs high frequency sound waves to efficiently remove tartar is used. This type of scaler generates heat, so water flows through the tip to cool the instrument during use. For tartar below the gum line, or in diseased gum tissue pockets, hand instruments are used to gently remove debris.

#5: Pet teeth polishing

Scaling creates microscopic scratches on the teeth that could speed up plaque and tartar accumulation if not addressed appropriately. Scaling is always followed by polishing with a powered, round polishing tool, and a paste similar to that used by your own dentist. Polishing smooths out the tooth surface, to slow the future buildup of plaque. 

#6: Pet dental examination and charting

Once the teeth are clean, the veterinarian will do a complete oral exam, probe the teeth to check for gum pocket depth, and chart any problems with each tooth. A pocket depth of greater than 3 mm in a dog or 1 mm in a cat indicates periodontal disease that must be addressed, and your veterinarian will cross reference exam findings with X-rays, to determine an appropriate treatment course.

#7: Pet dental treatments and extractions

Any problems found on the exam will be treated with the pet still under anesthesia. Your veterinarian may call to discuss the options, or you may agree ahead of time to let your veterinarian proceed with necessary treatments. Treatment may include extraction of diseased teeth, periodontal therapies, including root planing, and application of local antibiotic agents, tooth sealants, or more in-depth treatments like root canals.

#8: Pet dental fluoride and sealants

The final step in a dental cleaning is the application of fluoride, which strengthens your pet’s enamel.

#9: Pet anesthetic recovery

When the dental work is finished, it’s time to wake up your pet. The gas anesthesia is turned off, and your pet recovers under the care of their dedicated veterinary technician. Under anesthesia, your pet loses the ability to regulate their body temperature, so they will be kept warm during recovery. Other vital signs like heart rate, breathing, and pain level are also closely monitored.

#10: Pet dental home-care instructions

When your pet goes home, you’ll be given detailed instructions on their care. After a dental cleaning, special care other than anesthetic recovery is seldom required. If oral surgery was performed, you may need to temporarily change your pet’s diet, and pain medications will be provided. You’ll also be instructed on starting your pet’s oral home-care routine, to prevent dental disease progression, and to extend the time between professional cleanings. The mainstay of oral home-care is toothbrushing, and your veterinarian may also recommend special products like daily tooth brushing, approved dental chews, gels, or even dental diets that can deter plaque and tartar. 

Professional dental cleanings are necessary to keep your pet’s mouth healthy, and a healthy mouth leads to a healthier, happier pet overall. Call us to schedule an appointment with your University Veterinary Hospital team for a dental consultation, professional dental cleaning, or with any questions regarding your pet’s dental care. You can also check out our videos that further explain the importance of dental care for your pet.