We may have recently recommended a comprehensive oral examination and treatment (COHAT) for your pet, but you don’t really understand what that entails. Meanwhile, your friend is raving about the anesthetic-free dental cleaning another veterinary clinic performed on her pet. You are trying to decide what is best for your beloved companion. Since 80% of pets over age 3 have periodontal disease (i.e., gum inflammation and tooth damage due to plaque and tartar build-up on your pet’s teeth), and poor dental health can affect your pet’s overall well-being, many pet parents face this choice. To aid in your decision, let us take you through the 10 steps of a COHAT.

#1: History-taking and examining your pet

Our veterinary team will ask questions about your pet’s overall health, examine them from nose to tail to screen for abnormalities that may pose an anesthesia risk, and visually assess your pet’s mouth to estimate the extent of periodontal disease. For your pet’s comfort and safety, we will not use any dental instruments to evaluate or clean their teeth while they are awake. 

#2: Pre-anesthetic blood work for your pet

We will perform blood work to assess your pet’s organ function, especially the kidneys and liver, which break down and eliminate anesthetic drugs. Blood testing will also inform us that your pet has enough red cells to carry oxygen, white cells to fight infection, and platelets for blood clotting. If blood work shows abnormalities, we will do more testing before proceeding with general anesthesia.

#3: Pre-anesthetic medications for your pet

Our team will administer a sedative and pain medication to your pet prior to the dental procedure, which will ensure they are relaxed when anesthetic drugs are administered, and to provide a smooth, pain-free anesthetic recovery. 

#4: Inducing general anesthesia in your pet

Our veterinarian will develop an individual anesthetic plan for your pet based on their age, breed, physical exam findings, and blood work results to optimize their safety during the COHAT. Using advanced monitoring equipment, our skilled veterinary team will track your pet’s blood pressure, oxygen levels, respiratory rate, heart rate, and heart rhythm for the duration of the procedure, allowing for rapid detection and resolution of problems that may arise. 

#5: X-rays of your pet’s teeth

Up to 28% of dog teeth and 42% of cat teeth can appear normal on the surface, but have disease hiding in the root or surrounding bone, making full-mouth X-rays an integral part of every COHAT. Dental X-rays are vital for evaluating the tooth portion that lies below the gumline, because your pet may continue to suffer dental pain or infection if we do not treat those hidden problems. Dental X-rays cannot be taken on a pet who is not anesthetized, because keeping the patient still enough, and in the awkward positions required, is impossible. 

#6: Cleaning and polishing your pet’s teeth

Using special dental instruments, we will remove the tartar above and below your pet’s gumline, preventing bacteria from causing further painful damage to the tooth, or invading the bloodstream to cause kidney, liver, or heart disease. Next, we will polish the teeth, making it harder for the bacteria to adhere to the tooth and cause periodontal disease. Anesthesia-free dentals do not allow access to the plaque beneath the gumline, or the teeth to be polished, yet both are necessary to prevent periodontal disease from worsening.

#7: Examination of your pet’s individual teeth

We will probe and examine each tooth to detect deep pockets between the tooth and gums that may indicate infection, or fractured, worn, or loose teeth. We also assess your pet’s gum tissue, lips, tongue, and palate for masses, ulcers, or other abnormalities. These detailed examinations would not be possible, and would be traumatic, if your pet was awake. 

#8: Tooth extractions and other dental therapies for your pet

Based on the dental X-rays and oral examination results, our veterinarian will determine a treatment plan for your pet. If a tooth extraction is indicated, the veterinarian may inject a local anesthetic to  control pain during the removal, and to ensure a pain-free recovery from anesthesia. We will also remove or biopsy oral masses, and perform root canals and other dental procedures that our examinations indicated were necessary. 

#9: Your pet’s recovery from anesthesia

After all necessary procedures are completed, our veterinary team will continue to carefully monitor your pet as they wake up from anesthesia, to ensure a smooth, complication-free recovery. Should we detect a problem with your pet’s vital signs or pain level, we will quickly step in to remedy it. 

#10: Follow-up at-home care for your pet

After the COHAT, our team will review our findings and discuss your pet’s post-operative care, such as giving soft food only, and administering pain medications or antibiotics, as needed. Because plaque will begin to build up only days following the COHAT, implementing a regular—preferably daily—at-home dental regime of toothbrushing and/or dental products, such as chews, wipes, or water or food additives proven to be effective against plaque and tartar buildup, is imperative. 

We hope you now understand the benefits of a COHAT for your pet, and that anesthesia-free dental cleanings are not only ineffective, but also traumatic, stressful, and unsafe for your pet. Give us a call if you would like to schedule a COHAT for your pet, or have questions regarding their dental health.