Your veterinarian has examined your pet and says “Fluffy needs a dental cleaning. Let me get a treatment plan together, so that you know what’s involved in cleaning his teeth.” The estimate will only tell you about cost, so to better understand what’s involved, we thought we’d share what actually happens during a dental cleaning.
Once your pet is under anesthesia, he is moved to our dedicated dental area. We keep everything related to dentals in this space, so that we don’t need to move very far to get the instruments we need. This means that your pet is under anesthesia as short as possible.
In “dental land”, as we affectionately call it, we monitor your pet’s heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and EKG continuously during anesthesia. Your pet has a technician dedicated to monitoring anesthesia while the procedure is performed.
The first step in a dental cleaning is a thorough dental exam. This is where we examine every surface of every tooth, even the ones that are way in the back. We clean the tartar off each tooth with an ultrasonic scaler that vibrates so quickly you can’t see it with the naked eye. We also use a variety of hand scalers to be sure that every nook and cranny is free of tartar and plaque.
If any teeth are wiggly (mobile), broken (fractured), or infected (abscessed), we get your permission to take x-rays. This enables us to see the whole tooth, both above and below the gumline, as well as inside the tooth. The veterinarian assesses the tooth as well as the x-rays to determine if it needs to be removed.
Once the extractions are complete, we polish every surface of every tooth to be sure that they are completely smooth. Every rough surface that is left behind is a magnet for plaque and tartar to stick to. A smooth tooth, combined with daily tooth brushing, will stay cleaner for much longer.
After your pet wakes up, we call you to let you know how everything went. We schedule a discharge appointment so that the technician and/or veterinarian can go through any questions you may have, as well as explain any medications that may be needed.
I’ve heard of people who scrape pets’ teeth while they are awake. Can you do this?
Every patient is put under a general anesthesia, as this is essential to performing a proper and complete dental procedure. First off, nobody in their right mind would put their fingers in the mouth of even the most patient animal! Also, if any x-rays or extractions need to be performed, animals won’t understand that they need to sit still with their mouth open. Plus, scraping teeth alone will only remove the tartar you can see, while leaving tiny scratches on the teeth where bacteria will collect even faster.
I don’t pay this much at my own dentist…why is the dental so expensive?
Keep in mind that to do a proper cleaning, your pet needs to go under anesthesia. This is an extra expense that you probably won’t encounter at your dentist. Also, your dentist bills your insurance company first, and then you pay what’s left over. This is why we recommend pet insurance for all pet owners.
Can my pet eat with no teeth?
We only take out teeth that need to be removed. We try to keep “strategic” teeth if at all possible. Strategic teeth are mainly the canine teeth at the front of the mouth and the big molars on the side of the mouth. Canine teeth are important in jaw health, because their roots are so large that removing them can compromise the strength of the bone. Canines also preserve the appearance of the mouth in general, as far as the owner is concerned. The molars are important for chewing, but pets who don’t have these teeth can still eat canned or softened food.
My pet is only 3 years old…why does he need a dental cleaning?
Pets, just like people, are individuals. One dog may not need a dental cleaning until much later in life, while another dog (even a sibling from the same litter) may need dental cleanings starting at a younger age and needing to be repeated more often. This is because each pet’s saliva is different due to their individual diet, environment, and genetics.
Also, at Heartland we believe in preventative medicine. Would you rather see your pet have a Grade 1 dental cleaning so that you can start brushing teeth and put off future dentals? Or would you want to wait for several more years and end up doing a Grade 3 dental cleaning with numerous extractions instead?
My pet’s report card was perfect except for the teeth. Is this really something I need to worry about?
Your pet may seem otherwise healthy after a physical exam and screening bloodwork, but leaving dental disease is just asking for trouble. The blood that runs through your pet’s gums also runs through the heart and the rest of the body. Pets with dental disease may develop kidney and liver disease because these organs clean the blood. The heart and lungs can also be negatively affected by dental disease.