Veterinary Dental Cleaning

Getting Your Dog's Teeth Cleaned

dog veterinary dental cleaning
A dog gets a veterinary dental cleaning. Image courtesy East Atlanta Animal Clinic

You may have noticed that your veterinarian looks at your dog's teeth at each examination. Dental health is an important part of every dog's well-being. If your vet detects dental disease, a professional cleaning may be recommended in order to keep your dog healthy. But what exactly is a dental cleaning?

About Professional Dental Cleaning

A professional dental cleaning is sometimes called "dental prophylaxis" in cases of mild disease (because it is a preventive procedure).

When dental disease is significant, the professional dental cleaning may be considered "periodontal treatment". Most vet offices will simply nickname the procedure a "dental."

Much like your own routine visits to the dentist, a professional dental cleaning involves through scaling of the teeth, close inspection of the teeth, gums and mouth and polishing of the teeth. However, one cannot expect a dog to open wide and say "ahh." No dog will let people tinker around in his mouth with water and metal tools. Therefore, anesthesia is necessary to do a proper dental cleaning and oral examination.

Before the Dental Cleaning

While veterinarians strive to make anesthesia as safe as possible, it is not without risk. Animals with underlying health conditions will be at greater risk for anesthetic complications. Therefore, most vets recommend lab work before a dental cleaning. Normal lab results assure your vet that anesthesia poses the lowest risk possible.

Abnormal lab results will let your vet know that anesthesia protocols need adjustment, or that it may not be safe to use anesthesia on your dog at all. It will also allow your vet to treat for something you may never have know about until it was too late.

Dental Anesthesia

Once lab results have cleared your dog for the anesthesia to do the dental cleaning, some preparations will be made.

Veterinary technicians will likely place an intravenous catheter to deliver drugs and fluids to your dog during the procedure. A "pre-medication" may be given to bring on some relaxation and pain relief before the procedure begins. When your dog's dental is about to begin, an anesthetic drug will be injected, causing your dog to fall asleep quickly. Next, a breathing tube is placed through your dog's mouth into the trachea. This tube ensures an open airway during the procedure through which oxygen and anesthetic gas can be delivered. It also prevents liquids and bacteria in the mouth from entering the airway.

During the procedure, your dog's anesthesia level will be maintained and adjusted by veterinary technicians as well as the veterinarian. In addition, all vital signs will be closely monitored to ensure that your dog is not at risk of complications, but that he is also not awake or feeling the procedure.

The Dental Cleaning

Veterinary technicians typically perform the dental prophylaxis or periodontal treatment (much like a dental hygienist will clean your teeth). Many veterinary clinics will begin the procedure with dental radiographs (x-rays). This allows the veterinarian to assess the health of the tooth roots, not just the visible portion of the mouth.

The technician begins by rinsing the mouth and doing a general inspection. Next, the dental plaque and tartar is removed using an ultrasonic scaler and hand tools. A special periodontal scaler is used to clean along and just under the gum line, as this is where oral bacteria does the most damage. After scaling is complete, the technician will use a periodontal probe to look for signs of periodontal disease and any other abnormalities. The veterinarian will review the radiographs and visually examine the mouth. If there are no extractions or special treatments needed, the technician will go on to polish the teeth with a rubber tipped rotary polishing tool and paste (again, just like the dental hygienist does). The mouth is rinsed and dried. A fluoride foam is often be placed on the teeth at the very end of the procedure.

Dental Extractions and Special Treatments

In some cases, your veterinarian will determine that a tooth (or several teeth) have too much disease and must be removed. This includes teeth that are loose, fractured or otherwise unhealthy. Extracting a tooth may be fast and simple (when loose already) or an extensive surgical procedure.

You veterinarian may find areas of dental disease that are not severe enough to warrant extraction. In these cases, as special antibiotic or other treatment may be applied to the area and the tooth may be saved.

Your veterinarian will inform you of his or her recommendations for your dog after the full dental examination is complete. You can be sure that some kind of home care will be recommended.

The Cost of a Professional Dental Cleaning

Most of you already know that owning a dog is not cheap. However, we love our dogs and want the best for them. The cost of a professional dental cleaning varies by region and from vet to vet. It also depends on the amount of dental work your dog needs. In general, you should expect the full cost of a dental cleaning to fall between $300-500 depending on the severity of dental disease and the age of your dog. Be aware that extractions and special treatments will add to the overall cost, sometimes by several hundred dollars.

The cost may seem like a lot, but most pet owners and experts agree that, in the long run, it is money well spent. Dental disease can lead to many systemic health problems in dogs, such as heart and kidney diseases. Why not do what we can to prevent these?