Dental disease is a common problem in pets, and a professional veterinary dental cleaning should be part of your pet’s regular wellness care to fully evaluate their mouth and remove damaging bacteria. Our Bayview Animal Hospital team highlights seven facts you should know about these important procedures.

#1: Professional veterinary dental cleanings are important to protect your pet’s overall health

Periodontal disease is one of the most common health problems in pets, affecting 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by the age of 3 years. Food particles in your pet’s mouth attract bacteria, which accumulate, and form sticky deposits called plaque. This plaque hardens into tartar, preventing oxygen from reaching the tooth surface, and the causative bacteria can invade below the gum line and damage the supporting tooth structures. Pet owners most commonly notice their pet’s bad breath, but periodontal disease can cause your pet serious health complications, including:

  • Oral pain — Periodontal disease causes infection and inflammation in your pet’s mouth, leading to swollen, bleeding gums, loose teeth, and tooth root infections. These conditions can cause significant pain for your pet.
  • Jaw fracture — Bacteria that invade bony tissue weaken the bone, making jaw fracture more likely. Cats and small-breed dogs are at highest risk.
  • Organ damage — The bacteria that cause periodontal disease can also enter your pet’s bloodstream, damaging organs such as the heart, kidneys, and liver.

#2: Professional veterinary dental cleanings are performed under general anesthesia

When cleaning your pet’s teeth, our veterinary team uses sharp instruments to remove plaque and tartar, which can be upsetting and stressful for your pet, so they need general anesthesia to keep them still and to allow our team to perform a thorough job. Since they must be anesthetized, we first run diagnostics, including a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile, to ensure they have no health complications that may affect the procedure. A trained veterinary professional carefully monitors your pet’s vitals throughout the procedure until they fully recover, to ensure they remain safe and at an appropriate anesthetic level. 

#3: Dental X-rays are necessary to perform a professional veterinary dental cleaning

When we perform an oral examination, we can visualize only about 40% of the tooth, because the remaining 60% sits below the gum line. Therefore, we need dental X-rays to adequately evaluate your pet’s oral health and to detect issues such as tooth root abscesses, dead teeth, fractured teeth, bone loss, tooth resorption lesions, and jaw fractures.

#4: A professional veterinary dental cleaning is a comprehensive procedure

When your pet is safely anesthetized, and we have taken and evaluated their dental X-rays, our veterinary team proceeds as follows:

  • Anesthetized oral exam — We examine all structures in your pet’s mouth, including each tooth by tooth evaluation, which involves probing around the tooth and between tooth roots. A probe depth of about one to two millimeters is considered normal. When pets are affected by periodontal disease, their gums may bleed during probing, and the probe depths may increase. 
  • Oral charting — Charting documents abnormalities and helps create a treatment plan for each tooth.
  • Local anesthetic — We may use local anesthetic to numb your pet’s mouth, allowing our team to use less general anesthetic, which improves safety.
  • Subgingival cleaning — Our team removes bacteria from below your pet’s gum line, where most damage occurs.
  • Professional scaling — We scrape plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth.
  • Polishing — Scaling creates micro lesions in the tooth surface, so we polish your pet’s teeth to discourage bacteria from adhering to the rough tooth surface.
  • Dental treatments — We may apply fluoride or a dental sealant to help prevent bacterial accumulation.
  • Extractions — In cases where a diseases tooth isn’t salvageable, our team will extract the tooth.

#5: Professional veterinary dental cleanings should be performed about once a year

Since your pet’s dental health can’t be accurately evaluated on oral examination alone, they should have a professional veterinary dental cleaning about once a year. Some pets, such as small-breed pets and brachycephalic pets, are at higher risk for dental disease and may require more frequent procedures.

#6: Your pet may need medication after a professional veterinary dental cleaning

If your pet has significant dental disease or they require a tooth extraction, we may prescribe antibiotics or pain medication. 

#7: At-home dental care between professional veterinary dental cleanings is important

Plaque can begin to form only hours after a cleaning, and at-home dental care is critical to keep your pet’s mouth healthy between visits. Tips include:

  • Brushing your pet’s teeth daily — Daily toothbrushing is the best way to remove plaque and bacteria from your pet’s mouth. You may need to practice patience, but most pets learn to accept the procedure if you go slowly and offer high value treats. Ensure you use pet-friendly dental products, since human toothpaste can be toxic to pets.
  • Providing dental treats — Chewing on treats can help remove plaque and tartar, and many are formulated as dental treats. Look for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) to ensure the treat is effective. In addition, help prevent tooth fractures by ensuring your pet does not chew on exceptionally hard treats, such as bones, antlers, and hooves.
  • Feeding dental diets — In some cases, we may prescribe a dental diet, which is specially formulated to remove plaque and tartar, and many include additives that help prevent tartar formation. Our veterinary team can help you decide whether a dental diet would benefit your pet.

Your pet’s oral hygiene is important to ensure they remain healthy overall. Contact our Bayview Animal Hospital team to schedule a professional veterinary dental cleaning, so we can help your four-legged friend fight dental disease.