Oral disease can be painful for your pet and routine professional veterinary dental cleanings are an important part of their health care plan. Our Little Animal Hospital team wants to ensure your pet maintains a healthy mouth, and we provide answers to frequently asked questions about these procedures.

Question: Why does my pet need a professional veterinary dental cleaning?

Answer: According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of dental disease by age 3. While the most common sign is bad breath, dental disease also can lead to numerous, more serious health complications such as:

  • Gingivitis — Plaque and tartar accumulation inflame and irritate the gingiva, leading to swollen, painful gums that may bleed when your pet chews.
  • Painful teeth — As oral bacteria attack a tooth’s supporting structures, it can become loose, causing pain and discomfort. If your pet loses the tooth, the resulting gap can collect food, resulting in more problems.
  • Ocular and nasal involvement — The upper tooth roots are close to the nasal cavity and eyes, and if the infection invades these structures, complications such as an oronasal fistula or eye infections can occur.
  • Organ involvement — If the bacteria enter your pet’s bloodstream, the infection can damage their heart, liver, and kidneys.

Q: Why is blood work necessary before a professional veterinary dental cleaning?

A: Your pet must be anesthetized for a professional dental cleaning, and we perform a physical examination and blood work to ensure they are healthy enough for the procedure. If we detect an abnormality during these diagnostics, we may recommend other tests before we proceed.

Q: Why do you anesthetize my pet for a professional dental cleaning?

A: Anesthesia during a professional dental cleaning is important for several reasons, including:

  • Preventing anxiety — Many pets don’t appreciate having their mouths examined, especially by strangers wielding unfamiliar instruments. Anesthesia ensures your pet stays stress free during the procedure.
  • Avoiding injury — We must use sharp instruments to remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s mouth, and anesthesia ensures we can operate these tools safely. 
  • Ensuring thoroughness — Anesthesia is necessary so our team can perform a thorough and effective job, including removing bacteria from under your pet’s gumline where the most damage occurs.

Q: How is my pet monitored during a professional dental cleaning?

A: Your pet’s safety is our top priority, and a veterinary professional is assigned to them to monitor their vitals from the beginning to the end of the cleaning procedure. Techniques include:

  • Temperature probe — We use a temperature probe to ensure your pet’s core body temperature doesn’t increase or fall too low.
  • Heart rate monitor — Your pet’s heart rate can help indicate their anesthetic depth. We adjust their anesthesia as needed if their heart rate increases or decreases.
  • Respirometer — We measure your pet’s breaths per minute, which also can help indicate anesthetic depth.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) — We use an EKG to monitor your pet’s heart rhythm so we can quickly detect arrhythmias if they occur.
  • Blood pressure monitor — We monitor your pet’s cardiovascular status by measuring their blood pressure.
  • Pulse oximetry — We ensure your pet is receiving adequate oxygen during anesthesia by monitoring their pulse oximetry and end-tidal CO2.

Q: Why are dental X-rays necessary for a professional veterinary dental cleaning?

A: When examining your pet’s mouth, we can only see about 50% of their dental structures. Dental X-rays are necessary to see the anatomy that sits below your pet’s gumline. These views can help us detect issues such as:

  • Bone loss
  • Tooth root abscesses
  • Tooth resorption lesions
  • Dead teeth
  • Jaw fractures

Without dental X-rays, our team can’t make an informed plan to address your pet’s oral health needs.

Q: What else is involved in a professional veterinary dental cleaning?

A: A routine dental procedure also includes a complete examination, charting, and a prophylaxis cleaning involving:

  • Scaling — We use ultrasonic instruments and hand-held tools to remove plaque and bacteria from your pet’s teeth and under their gumline.
  • Polishing — The scaling instruments leave micro abrasions on the tooth surface that must be removed to prevent bacterial adherence. We polish your pet’s teeth to ensure the surface is smooth.
  • Fluoride — We apply fluoride to your pet’s teeth to help prevent plaque accumulation.

Q: How else can I promote my pet’s dental health?

A: Plaque can start to accumulate on your pet’s teeth about 24 hours after a professional dental cleaning. This means that steps should be taken to remove the dangerous bacteria between cleanings. Recommendations include:

  • Brushing your pet’s teeth — Brushing your pet’s teeth once or twice a day is the best way to keep their mouth healthy between professional veterinary dental cleanings. Human dental products can be toxic to pets, so ensure you purchase pet-specific toothpaste and use a soft-bristled toothbrush to prevent irritating your pet’s gums.
  • Providing dental treats — Chewing on dental treats approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, (VOHC) can help your pet effectively remove plaque and tartar from their teeth.
  • Feeding a dental diet — Prescription dental diets are available that are specifically formulated to help reduce plaque accumulation. Ask our team if a prescription dental diet can help your pet’s oral health.

Routine professional veterinary dental cleanings should be part of your pet’s health care plan. Contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Little Animal Hospital so we can help maintain your pet’s oral health.