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Dental care is important for improving welfare and for prolonging life in dogs and cats. Since dogs and cats are living longer, the health of their teeth has become a greater concern. Poor dental health can not only lead to decreased appetite and weight loss, but can also play a role in heart disease, kidney disease, liver problems, and jaw fractures. When you bring your pet for their wellness appointment, a veterinarian will examine the teeth for tartar, periodontal disease, fractured, worn, or loose teeth, and oral masses. We may recommend that your pet have a dental cleaning if any of these problems are identified.

What are some signs of dental problems?


Dogs and cats can be very good at hiding their pain or discomfort, so some pets may not show any signs of dental disease even though problems exist. This is why routine wellness exams can be very important for early detection of problems. Some signs of dental problems include:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)

  • Loose teeth

  • Discolored teeth

  • Excessive drooling

  • Dropping food or treats when eating

  • Bleeding from the mouth

  • Loss of appetite or weight loss


How common is dental disease?


Dental disease is the most common disease seen in pets with 85% of adult pets having dental disease.

What are tartar and periodontal disease?


When bacteria build up on the teeth and gums they form plaque. Plaque is soft and can be removed with daily brushing or dental chews. As the bacteria accumulate, the plaque starts to become hard and forms tartar (or calculus). Tartar cannot be removed by daily brushing or with dental chews; it can only be removed with dental equipment. As tartar accumulates, the bacteria can spread below the gumline around the roots of the teeth. This is periodontal disease and can lead to swollen and painful gums, tooth root infections or abscesses, bone loss around the teeth, loose teeth, missing teeth, and even jaw fractures. The infection can spread into the bloodstream and cause problems with the heart, kidneys, and liver. Additionally, cats can have a particular type of dental disease called feline tooth resorption.

Healthy Teeth
Dental Disease

What can I do at home to prevent dental disease?

The best way to prevent dental disease is to brush your pet’s teeth daily. It is best to start working with your pet at an early age to allow them to become accustomed to having their teeth brushed. The following videos go over how to train your dog or cat to accept daily brushing.

Although daily brushing is the best way to prevent dental disease, there are other options as well. These include feeding dental chews or treats, feeding an oral health care food, or using dental sprays or water additives. It is important to make sure that the product that you use is approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. This means that the product was shown to meet or exceed the standards for plaque removal. The Veterinary Oral Health Council maintains a list of approved products.

What is involved with a professional dental cleaning?


At our clinic, we perform all dental cleanings under general anesthesia. This allows for removal of plaque and tartar below the gumline as well as on the tooth surface. This is very important as most dental disease begins with plaque and tartar build-up below the gumline. An ultrasonic scaler is used to remove plaque and tartar. The teeth are then polished to remove microscopic grooves in the teeth where bacteria like to attach. After your pet’s cleaning, a veterinarian performs an oral exam of the teeth and mouth. If problems are identified, such as fractures, loose teeth, or periodontal disease, the veterinarian will contact you about the problem and provide a recommendation for treatment. Alternatively, arrangements can be made at the time of drop off to approve any treatment that is necessary. Our clinic also offers a dental sealant that can be placed on the teeth after they are cleaned and polished.


What is a dental sealant?


A dental sealant is placed on the outer surface of all of the teeth. After the sealant dries, it forms a protective barrier that prevents bacteria from attaching to the tooth surface. This slows down the buildup of plaque and tartar and may lengthen the time needed between dental cleanings. It is important to not allow your pet to chew on hard or abrasive toys or treats for 2 weeks after the sealant is applied as this may wear off the sealant prematurely. You can further extend the life of the dental sealant by applying a special gel once per week over the outer surface of the teeth. The gel strengthens the dental sealant and further slows down the buildup of plaque and tartar.


Can my pet’s teeth be cleaned without general anesthesia?


General anesthesia is required to properly remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth. Most dental disease begins with plaque and tartar buildup below the gumline. Human dentists can adequately clean this area on people without general anesthesia because people understand what is happening and can hold their mouths open for the procedure. However, pets do not understand what is happening and would be frightened by the procedure. In order to ensure the safety of your pet, the veterinarian, and the veterinary technician, general anesthesia is required for cleaning of plaque and tartar below the gumline. We require that all dogs and cats be examined by one of our veterinarians prior to scheduling a dental cleaning. This is to help ensure that your pet is healthy enough for anesthesia and to minimize complications. If your pet is older or has an existing health condition, we may recommend performing bloodwork prior to anesthesia to assess kidney and liver function.


What should I expect on the day of my pet’s dental cleaning?


On the day of the dental cleaning, we ask that you bring your pet to the clinic between 8-8:30AM. We do allow check-in the night before surgery if this is more feasible for your schedule. Please let us know at the time you schedule your pet’s dental cleaning if you would like to drop your dog or cat off the night before. Your pet should be fasted for at least 8 hours and receive no water after midnight the night before the dental cleaning. You should bring any medications that your pet is taking so that the medications can be continued while your pet is at the clinic. If your pet is on a prescription diet, please bring enough food for two meals. When you bring your pet for their dental cleaning, the office staff or a veterinary technician will have you sign an admissions form and provide a contact phone number for the day. It is very important that you be accessible via this phone number in case the veterinarian needs to contact you in regards to your pet.


Your dog or cat will have a quick exam to check their vital signs when they arrive for the dental cleaning. If your pet requires any bloodwork prior to surgery, we will perform it at this time. Dental cleanings are typically performed in the late morning and early afternoon. Each pet has a customized anesthetic protocol designed for their specific breed and health condition. If dental disease, such as tooth fractures, loose teeth, or periodontal disease, is identified during the oral exam, a veterinarian will contact you to discuss treatment options. After your pet’s dental cleaning is complete, a veterinarian or veterinary technician will call to let you know that your pet is in recovery and set a time for your pet to go home. Pets that have a dental cleaning performed can often go home the same day if they recover well from anesthesia. If your pet has teeth extracted or other oral procedures performed, then they may be hospitalized overnight for monitoring.


How is my pet monitored during a dental cleaning?


The heart rate, respiratory rate, and SpO2 (or blood oxygenation level) is monitored during the dental cleaning. In addition, a veterinary technician and veterinarian are present at all times while your dog or cat is anesthetized.

Is my pet given pain medication after the dental cleaning?


When we are only performing a routine dental cleaning pain medication is usually not necessary. If your pet has dental disease present, if a tooth is extracted, or if other dental treatments are necessary besides a routine cleaning, then your pet will receive an injection of pain medication during their surgery which will last for 24 hours. In addition, we utilize local nerve blocks when extracting a tooth to numb the site for several hours after the extraction is complete.  Your pet will also be sent home with an oral pain medication for you to give for several days after the dental cleaning.


What special care does my pet need after the dental cleaning?


The night after a routine dental cleaning, we recommend that you keep your pet in a quiet place with minimal activity. This is to allow for continued recovery after the anesthesia. You should only feed your pet in small amounts for 12 hours after the dental cleaning as sometimes anesthetics can cause nausea for a short time after recovery.

If your pet had a dental sealant applied during the dental cleaning, do not give hard or abrasive treats or toys for 14 days or the sealant may be worn off prematurely.

Following a tooth extraction, your pet should be fed a soft food for 14 days. This can either be a canned food or a dry food with water or chicken broth added to make it softer. You may notice small amounts of blood in your pet’s saliva or water bowl for a few days after the extraction. If you notice blood for more than 72 hours, please contact the clinic. You should monitor the site of extraction for any changes. The sutures that are placed at the extraction site will dissolve away and do not need to be removed. If you notice changes to the extraction sites or have concerns, please contact the clinic.

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