The answer is that it is considerably more involved than having your own teeth cleaned at the dentist. When your dentist tells you to open your mouth, move your tongue, close a little, etc… …you comply, and allow him access to your teeth. Even the best dog in the world is not going to sit still with his mouth wide open while someone accurately cleans his teeth. Therefore, to clean your pet’s teeth correctly, your pet will need to be anesthetized, and that is where the expense comes in. Anesthesia can be a scary thing for a lot of people. Knowing what is involved may help you realize that safety first is the motto for the day. Here is step by step what happens during a dental for our imaginary pet Lucky.
LUCKY’S TEETH CLEANING PROCEDURE
THE DAY HAS ARRIVED
No breakfast for Lucky on dental day. He may have water, but he should have no food after 10pm the night before.
ARRIVAL & PREP
Lucky should arrive at the clinic between 7 and 8 am. Take him for a quick walk before he arrives.
Lucky is shown to his quarters for the day, but he doesn’t take too long to settle in. The technician will take blood to run his pre-anesthetic blood screen (some pets will have had this done a few days before). He is weighed to make sure all medication doses are accurate, and he is prepped for his intravenous catheter (IV). The IV is where he receives some of his medications and, most importantly, fluids during the procedure. IV fluids help maintain hydration and blood pressure during anesthesia.
After a physical exam by the Doctor, Lucky is then given some pre-anesthetic medications. These medications include light sedatives (to minimize future anesthesia and to control pain) and antibiotics (to prevent the bacteria from causing problems anywhere else as the teeth are cleaned).
About 15-30 minutes later, Lucky is anesthetized with a short acting injectable medication that allows him to be intubated (to place a plastic tube into Lucky’s trachea which he will breathe through). Once intubated, Lucky breathes a controlled mix of oxygen and anesthesia. The amount of the anesthetic in the mix is constantly adjusted throughout the procedure to maintain Lucky at just the right level, just enough to keep him asleep.
Lucky is immediately hooked up to monitors that measure the amount of oxygen in his blood, blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and respiration. His vitals are monitored continuously and his anesthetic level is adjusted as needed. He is also given IV fluids at this time.
The dental technician begins cleaning Lucky’s teeth immediately, using an ultrasonic scaler that vibrates at very high speed. The scaler vibrates the tartar off the teeth without damaging the enamel. As a rule, this is the part of the dental that takes the most time. The teeth are cleaned below the gum line as well, and then the doctor evaluates the teeth for any pockets, damaged teeth, abscesses, or irregularities.
Extractions: If there are any teeth that are “bad” or suspicious the doctor will determine if they need to be extracted. This requires utilization of dental radiographs (x-rays) as well as physical examination. The doctor only extracts teeth if necessary. Most of the time if the tooth is bad enough to be removed, Lucky hasn’t been chewing with that tooth, and so he won’t miss it. In fact, once the bad teeth are extracted Lucky will probably feel better and be happier. Clients often comment that they did not realize how painful their pet was until they saw how much better they felt once the teeth were extracted! The goal of routine dentals is to keep the teeth healthy and prevent the need for extraction.
Once the scaling and extractions are complete, the teeth are polished with a high speed rotary polisher, kind of like the rotating heads that buff out your floors or car after a wax. This smoothes out microscopic abrasions to the enamel, and makes it more difficult for the bacteria to hold on and buildup more tartar.
Time for Lucky to wake up. Anesthesia will probably have lasted anywhere from 30-90 minutes depending on how involved the procedure was. Recovery is different with each dog. Lucky will hang out for a couple of hours until he feels like he’s ready to walk around. Some patients are a little nauseous after anesthesia, and will need a little help combating that, but most recover uneventfully. Lucky can go home, often by 3 in the afternoon.
Once at home, Lucky should take it easy. He should avoid stairs, and be allowed to sleep undisturbed. He might want a little something to eat, which should be OK, but it’s best to wait until the next day for a full meal. If he had any extractions, he will have to eat canned food for a few days ( or soften his dry food with warm water and allow to soak 10-15 minutes).
Home dental care will start in about 1 week. At Lucky’s release the technician will work with Lucky’s human to determine the best home care regimen for him. All in all, it’s a big day for Lucky, but it will save him lots of pain and discomfort in the future.
Imagine if you never brushed your teeth or had them cleaned. Pretty frightening, right? As you can imagine, things would eventually start to go very, very bad inside your mouth: teeth would rot and decay, gums would become inflamed and infected. Bacteria from those rotting teeth would eventually travel into your bloodstream and could cause other serious health problems. And we haven’t even mentioned the daily, debilitating pain.
It’s the same scenario for your dog or cat. While some people might laugh at the idea of brushing their pet’s teeth or taking them for a dental cleaning, the fact is that by age three, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some evidence of periodontal disease. Periodic dental exams help maintain proper oral hygiene and prevent future problems.
Mill Creek Animal Clinic offers complete pet oral health services, including:
- Dental exams
- Annual dental cleanings
- Dental X-rays
Following American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines, Mill Creek Animal Clinic only does cleanings and dental work on anesthetized pets. To ensure your pet is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia, we do require a routine blood test before the procedure.
Preventive Dental Care
Brushing your pet’s teeth several times per week is the best way to prevent plaque and tartar build-up. Interested in learning how to brush your pet’s teeth? Just ask and our veterinarians will be happy to help you get started. If you have a pet that won’t tolerate brushing, our veterinarians can also recommend products that will help keep your pet’s mouth healthy in between cleanings.
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Meet with a doctor for an initial exam.
Put a plan together for your pet.