Humans visit the dentist twice yearly for cleanings, and brush and floss their teeth twice a day to keep them clean. Imagine what would happen if you stopped all these oral care measures completely—not pretty, right? Plaque and tartar would build up quickly, and this would lead to gum disease, bone loss, and eventual tooth loss. The same thing happens to our pets, because they have teeth, too. Seventy to 85% of pets develop dental disease—also called periodontal disease—by age 3. Periodontal disease progresses if left untreated, and leads to significant pain and reduced quality of life, and may cause permanent organ damage if oral bacteria spread through the bloodstream.

Your Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital team recognizes that dental care is key for your pet’s wellness. Regular professional veterinary dental cleanings will keep your pet’s teeth clean, and prevent oral bacteria from spreading to the rest of the body. But, are you wondering what happens while your pet is here with us in our hospital? Here is a breakdown of the teeth cleaning process. 

  • Your pet is placed under anesthesia — Pets don’t understand how dental cleaning works, and won’t hold open their mouths when asked, so anesthesia is necessary to ensure everyone’s safety, and because we need your pet to be completely still to obtain X-rays and complete a thorough oral exam. All pets are screened with blood work, to ensure they are healthy prior to anesthesia, and have an intravenous (IV) catheter placed for fluid administration during the procedure. Your pet’s vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and body temperature, are monitored throughout the procedure, just as yours would be during anesthesia. You can rest assured that safety is our top priority during your pet’s procedure. We will also trim your pet’s nails during the procedure.
  • Your pet’s teeth are X-rayed if necessary — X-rays help your veterinarian evaluate the tooth roots, where most dental problems hide. Most of the tooth cannot be seen on a regular exam, but X-rays can reveal common issues such as fractures, infections, cysts, unerupted teeth, and bone loss. If such issues aren’t addressed, bad breath, pain, and infection will recur, despite the clean teeth. X-rays can also help your veterinarian ensure that all tooth roots are removed in a complicated extraction case.
  • Your pet’s teeth are cleaned and polished — Getting the teeth sparkly clean is one of the main objectives during a professional dental cleaning. Lidocaine gel is placed on the gingiva or gum tissue, and calculus deposits above and below the gum line are removed using an ultrasonic scaler, which must be cooled with a flow of water through the tip. Once the teeth are debris-free, they are polished with textured paste, to remove microscopic abrasions and create a smooth surface that repels future plaque buildup. Fluoride is applied after polishing, to further delay future calculus formation.
  • Your veterinarian performs a complete oral exam — Once all the gunk is removed from your pet’s teeth, your veterinarian can complete their oral exam and dental charting. This involves checking each tooth’s health and gum attachment depth, and noting these details in the medical record for comparison at future visits. Normal gum attachments vary from 1 mm to 3 mm, with anything greater called a periodontal pocket. The adjacent teeth may have bone loss, abscesses, or other problems, which will be revealed on X-rays, and the veterinarian will determine whether the teeth must be extracted, or can be saved.
  • Your veterinarian extracts diseased teeth — Teeth severely affected by periodontal disease generally must be extracted, although in earlier disease stages, teeth can be saved with treatments like deep cleaning, local antibiotic applications, and the pet owner’s commitment to ongoing oral home care. Extraction sites are closed with dissolvable sutures to keep out food and bacteria. Pets feel much better after these teeth are removed, as they were likely extremely painful prior to extraction.

  • Your pet is discharged with home-care instructions — A dental cleaning isn’t complete without home-care instructions. Our team will go over what to expect after anesthesia, how to care for your pet after oral surgery, when to schedule your pet’s next professional cleaning, and how to start a home oral health care regimen. We recommend toothbrushing for all pets—daily if possible—but a few times weekly will also be beneficial. If your pet doesn’t accept brushing, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) maintains a list of safe, effective, plaque-reduction products that can help keep your pet’s mouth healthy between professional cleanings. 

Professional dental cleanings keep your pet’s mouth clean and provide a foundation for your pet’s overall health. Good oral health care improves your pet’s longevity and quality of life, so call us to schedule an appointment with our Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital team for your pet’s next dental exam and professional cleaning.