Many pet owners overlook dental disease signs in their pets, assuming bad breath or picky eating are because of normal aging. The truth is, bad breath is never normal, and usually signals the early stages of periodontal disease, a progressive, serious, and painful condition. Disease begins when plaque covers the teeth, hardens into tartar (i.e., calculus), and erodes the gum line and tooth attachment structures. Once bone loss begins, tooth loss will result. The disease causes inflammation, pain, and infection that can spread through the bloodstream, and damage important organs like the liver, heart, and kidneys. 

The good news is that dental disease can be prevented. Like people, pets require daily toothbrushing and consistent oral home-care to remove the plaque before hardening into tartar. But, as with people, home care isn’t enough, and professional cleaning is still required once or twice a year. For pets, this process must be done under anesthesia, to allow a complete and thorough exam, since we can’t ask them to open wide and say “Ah.” Your Stack Veterinary Hospital team will screen your pet prior to anesthesia to ensure they are healthy, and your pet will be monitored closely by a dedicated veterinary technician throughout the entire procedure. 

Are you wondering what happens while your pet is asleep? Here are the steps your veterinary dental team performs during a professional pet dental cleaning.

#1: Pet dental X-rays

X-rays are taken of each tooth to assess the entire root structure, since most problems occur in the 60% of the tooth that lies hidden below the gum line. Professional dental cleanings are recommended yearly for all pets, as they can uncover disease hidden in an apparently normal-looking pet. X-rays can reveal many problems, including abscessed teeth, bone loss, resorptive lesions, cavities, retained teeth, and cysts. 

#2: Pet oral exam and charting

Your veterinarian fully evaluates and probes each tooth, to check for fractures, gum attachment depth, resorptive lesions, and other abnormalities. Detailed notes are recorded for comparison each time your pet comes in for a cleaning. If any abnormalities are found, your veterinarian will use the X-rays to decide whether treatment is warranted. Treatment authorization and costs will be requested and explained ahead of time, or during this portion of the procedure. 

#3: Pet tooth scaling

Your pet’s teeth are cleaned using hand instruments and an ultrasonic scaler. We use the hand instruments to remove tartar above and below the gum line, and in deep pockets. The ultrasonic scaler’s sonic vibrations can efficiently clean large surface areas, and a flow of water running through the tip keeps the instrument cool. 

#4: Pet periodontal treatments and extractions

Next, any approved treatments are performed. Diseased teeth are typically extracted, and sutures placed to close the extraction sites. In some situations, we may be able to apply a local antibiotic gel into deep gum pockets to help reattach the tooth.

#5: Pet tooth polishing

Your pet’s teeth must be polished after scaling to remove any scratches or roughness that were created during scaling, using a power tool with a small, soft polishing head, plus a mild abrasive paste. Smoothing the tooth surface helps slow future plaque and tartar buildup. 

#6: Pet anti-plaque sealant

Last, but not least, a waxy plaque-resistant sealant that will repel plaque and prevent buildup for a few weeks after the procedure may be applied to the teeth. This works out nicely, as you’ll be instructed not to perform any home care for one to two weeks, to allow the gum tissues to heal. 

#7: Pet recovery

Finally, your pet will be taken off the anesthesia and monitored closely during recovery. You will be given detailed instructions for your pet’s immediate postoperative period, as well as for ongoing dental home care. Home care, such as toothbrushing, can extend the time between cleanings and is an essential part of your pet’s overall dental care. Your veterinarian can recommend the best dental products for your pet, but you should also check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council website for products that have received this esteemed organization’s seal of approval. 

At Stack Veterinary Hospital, we recommend yearly professional dental cleanings. Call us to schedule an appointment if your pet is overdue for their cleaning, or if you notice your pet showing any signs of oral discomfort.