When you hear your pet needs a professional dental cleaning, you may wonder what that entails. Is the procedure similar to your teeth being cleaned by your own dentist? Why does your pet require anesthesia? Why is your pet’s dental cleaning more expensive? 

To start, a pet dental cleaning performed by a veterinary professional is indeed similar to your own cleaning. We perform a full oral examination, take dental X-rays, and clean, scale, and polish your pet’s teeth, noting problems along the way. Since pets cannot be expected to lie back and say, “Ahh,” we use anesthesia to keep them unconscious during their cleaning and free from stress and pain. Because of the added expense of anesthesia and, in part, the lack of widespread pet health insurance to help shoulder the cost, dental cleanings are more expensive for pets than owners.

Our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team knows you want to understand what happens during your pet’s professional dental cleaning. Follow along as we share the steps we perform during a routine veterinary dental cleaning.

Step 1: Perform a physical examination

We perform a thorough physical examination the morning of your pet’s procedure to evaluate their health status that day, and to obtain their baseline vital signs. We also try to complete an oral exam as much as possible while your pet is awake, since this will give us a better idea of any painful spots.

Step 2: Conduct pre-anesthetic testing

Before any pet is placed under anesthesia, we conduct pre-anesthetic testing, which consists of, at a minimum, blood work. A complete blood count and chemistry panel will tell us about your pet’s internal health, and whether anemia, infection, inflammation, or organ dysfunction are present. 

Step 3: Formulate an anesthetic protocol

Based on the information we gather from the physical examination and pre-anesthetic testing, we create a customized anesthetic protocol for your pet. An individualized anesthetic protocol provides the safest anesthesia. 

Step 4: Administer anesthesia

Once we have determined the best anesthetic agents for your pet, we begin administering anesthesia. We first place an intravenous (IV) catheter that will not only allow us to give intravenous drugs, but to also support your pet’s blood pressure and provide instantaneous venous access. Once your pet is anesthetized, we place an endotracheal (i.e., breathing) tube down their trachea to provide pure oxygen and anesthetic gas. This also protects their airway and prevents any water and debris from going into their lungs.

Step 5: Examine the mouth and oral cavity

After your pet is fully anesthetized, we can more completely examine their mouth and oral cavity. We will search for abnormal teeth, gingival issues, ulcers, and any signs of infection, inflammation, or disease.

Step 6: Take full-mouth dental X-rays

In addition to visually inspecting your pet’s mouth, we take dental X-rays to evaluate their periodontal health below the gum line. Since as much as 60% of the tooth structure lies below the surface, X-rays are essential for detecting hidden issues, such as broken teeth and roots, dead teeth, abscesses, infected teeth, or a multitude of other periodontal problems.

Step 7: Chart oral issues and devise a treatment plan

If necessary, we will treat the oral issues discovered through the examination and X-rays. For example, a dead, fractured, or infected tooth will likely need to be extracted.

Step 8: Remove plaque and tartar from the teeth

The plaque and tartar will then be removed from the remaining healthy teeth. We use hand tools and an ultrasonic scaler to remove tough tartar, above and below the gumline, to ensure we eradicate every trace of oral bacteria. 

Step 9: Polish the teeth

Once the teeth are clean, we polish them with a substance designed to smooth away microabrasions in the enamel. Leaving the teeth with a smooth surface will help prevent future plaque and tartar accumulation. 

Step 10: Monitor recovery from anesthesia

After we have completed your pet’s dental cleaning, we recover them from anesthesia, closely monitoring them throughout their recovery for signs of pain or adverse reactions to the anesthetic agents. Most pets recover quickly from anesthesia for dental cleanings, unless they required extractions or more in-depth oral procedures. Once your pet is fully aware and able to stand and walk, they can head home. Your pet will likely appreciate softened or canned food for the first few days following their cleaning, since their gums may be sore, but you can soon feed them their regular diet. However, start brushing their teeth as soon as they eat their first meal to help thwart plaque from hardening into tartar, which can greatly extend the time between your furry pal’s dental cleanings.

Is your pet due for a dental cleaning? Perhaps you were told they needed teeth extracted, but you are concerned about what that involves. If you have questions or concerns about your furry pal’s dental procedure, talk to our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team.