If you have ever suffered from a tooth ache, then you know just how serious dental pain can be. Regular dental care is not only necessary for us, however, but vital to the longevity of your dog or cat as well. If left untreated, dental disease—the result of plaque and calculus build up on your pets’ teeth—can cause pockets at the gumline which create periodontal disease by eating away at the periodontal ligament and jawbone. This can lead to root abscesses, loosened teeth, and bone loss.
Dental disease is progressive and will not go away without treatment. Calculus build-up on teeth allows easy access to the bloodstream via the mucous membranes and creates a constant source of bacteria. This can lead to infections in the kidneys, liver, pancreas, and heart and possible organ failure.
Around 80% of pets have signs of dental disease by the time they are 3 years old. The only way to really treat plaque and calculus that have already built up significantly on your pets’ teeth is to bring them in for a dental cleaning. Anesthesia is needed to perform a thorough examination and cleaning of all teeth in the oral cavity. The majority of a pet’s dental disease is below the gumline and cannot be evaluated without anesthesia and radiographs.
During a dental cleaning, our patients are placed under general anesthesia. We evaluate any unusual swellings or masses, and rinse the mouth with an antibacterial solution before we begin cleaning the teeth with an ultrasonic scaler. Once the teeth have been cleaned, one of our Certified Veterinary Technicians uses a dental probe to chart any pockets around the teeth and examine all teeth for fractures, rotated teeth, missing teeth, or any unusual structures. Radiographs are taken of any teeth that show these issues, which a veterinarian then evaluates to decide if treatment is needed (such as extraction, root planing, or a referral to the Animal Dental Clinic for more complex issues).
After treatment has been performed, the teeth are polished to remove microscopic etching that happens with scaling. The patient is then turned off from anesthesia and monitored during recovery. This procedure will require your pet to stay with us for most of the day, and our veterinarians will call after surgery to keep you updated on how your pet is doing and when they will be awake to go home.
Why does my pet need to be under anesthesia for a dental cleaning?
Anesthesia is needed to perform a thorough examination of all teeth and the oral cavity. Our pets do not understand what we are doing and will not sit still to have their teeth cleaned, probed, x-rayed and polished.
Instruments used in dentistry are sharp and small movements from pets can lacerate their gums or tongue. Probing teeth can be painful and cannot be properly performed on an awake pet. The palatal and lingual areas (inside of upper and lower teeth) cannot be evaluated and probed on an awake pet.
Dental scaling without anesthesia only removes calculus on the crown which is purely cosmetic. The majority of pets’ dental disease is below the gum line and cannot be evaluated without anesthesia and radiographs.
General anesthesia is very scary for owners. This is normal and we do understand! No anesthesia is 100% safe, but there are many things that we do to minimize the risks associated with anesthesia.
- Pre-anesthetic blood work is performed to assess organ and immune function. This lets the doctor choose a pain medication and injectable anesthetic appropriate for your pet. The doctor also takes into account your pet’s age, breed and overall health.
- Multi-modal anesthesia is used. This is a fancy way to say we use a small amount of different drugs to enhance the effect of each drug while minimizing the side effects. While it seems like we are giving several drugs (and we are) to your pet, this is much safer than giving only one drug and then needing to counteract the side effects of that one drug. This is the standard in human medicine as well. For example:
- Each patient receives a pre-medication that includes an opioid and an anti-anxiety medication. This allows us to use less injectable anesthesia, less gas anesthesia and less pain medication post-op.
- Each patient receives an IV catheter so that we can give a small dose of an injectable anesthesia. This is short acting so that we can place an endotracheal tube (a tube into the trachea) and place them on gas anesthesia.
- After a patient is placed on gas anesthesia, they are maintained at a low rate until the dental cleaning is finished.
- All of these medications used together provide a safer anesthesia experience for patients.
- All patients are monitored by a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT). CVT’s have passed a national board exam to become certified and are required to re-license with the state every year. They must also attend continuing education every year to maintain their license.
- All patients are monitored using an ECG (to monitor heart rate and rhythm), blood pressure monitoring, blood oxygenation rate and a CVT. Patients are on a heat support system (called the Hot Dog Warming System—funny name, but a great product!). All patients wake up being monitored by a CVT and are not moved into a recovery kennel until they are sitting up and swallowing. This means they are alert and able to have their endotracheal tube removed because they are able to swallow normally.
- Patients are monitored by CVT’s in the recovery kennels until they go home.
Preventing dental disease is much easier than treating it. Dental care can range from simple to complex, and is easily ranked as “Good, Better, and Best.”
Good Dental Care
Pets need stimulation against their teeth and gums in order to combat plaque and tartar buildup. Purchasing dental treats approved by your veterinarian for the prevention and reduction of tartar is a great step for your pet’s oral health care. Rose City Veterinary Hospital carries a wide variety of dental chews, treats, and even water additives and rinses to aide in at-home care. We recommend treats that have the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval.
Better Dental Care
Although it can take some practice and patience, brushing your pets’ teeth daily will make a dramatic difference in their oral health. Begin brushing your pets’ teeth when they are young to help them get accustomed to it. Always start slow, softly and for short durations at first, before working up to brushing the whole mouth. Brushing your pets teeth can be very frustrating, but you can make it fun for them! The staff at Rose City Veterinary Hospital will be happy to go over tips and tricks with you, or you can take a look at our teeth brushing guide.
Best Dental Care
Bringing your pet in for regular dental cleanings provides a complete and total examination of the mouth and can solve underlying problems before they become exacerbated by regular eating and chewing. The frequency for how often a pet should come in for a cleaning varies animal to animal, but nearly all pets have enough tartar on their teeth by only age two to begin a regular schedule of cleanings as they get older. To learn more about our dentistry options, please feel free to contact us or bring your pet in for their regular wellness exam to discuss the state of their teeth.