February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and our team at Animal Medical Hospital of Naples is here to take the mystery out of the professional pet dental cleaning process. When your veterinarian shares that your pet requires a dental cleaning, you likely have questions, such as:

  • Why does my pet need a dental cleaning?
  • What happens to my pet during a dental cleaning? 
  • Will my pet be anesthetized during the dental cleaning? 
  • What could happen if my pet does not get a dental cleaning? 

We’re going to answer these frequently asked questions, and give you an in-depth look at what’s involved in a professional pet dental cleaning. 

Why does my pet need a dental cleaning?

Most veterinarians recommend that they examine your pet’s mouth annually, as part of their annual wellness check. A dental exam is more than ensuring your pet’s teeth are pearly white, and their breath smells good. A dental exam serves three purposes:

  • Detecting early signs of dental disease  — During the exam, your veterinarian will look for early dental disease signs, including:
    • Brown or yellow tartar (i.e., calculus) buildup on the teeth
    • Red, swollen gums
    • Broken or loose teeth
    • Abnormalities in the tongue, lips, jaw, and lymph nodes

Your veterinarian may take dental X-rays, which allow them to observe the 60% of your pet’s teeth below the gum line that cannot be seen by the naked eye. If your veterinarian sees indications of dental disease, such as tartar buildup, they will recommend that your pet’s teeth be professionally cleaned.

  • Preventing periodontal disease — Dental disease is one of the most common conditions seen by veterinarians, and most pets older than age 3 have some degree of periodontal disease. Without preventive care or treatment, dental disease can lead to infection and loose teeth that can cause your pet significant pain, and can cause problems that extend far beyond your pet’s teeth. Potential problems caused by dental disease include:
    • Kidney, heart, and liver damage — Bacteria from plaque and tartar buildup can leak into your pet’s bloodstream, damaging these essential organs. 
    • Tooth root infections — These infections occur most commonly in the large, three-rooted carnassial teeth on the upper jaw. 
    • Under-eye swelling — Tooth root abscesses can cause a pus-filled swelling below the eye that may be confused with an eye or facial problem. 
  • Educating clients on good dental care between visits — While a yearly dental examination is important, maintaining good dental habits for your pet between visits is equally important. Your veterinarian can demonstrate proper toothbrushing techniques, and recommend effective dental products to supplement your pet’s at-home routine.

What is involved in dental cleaning?

Once your veterinarian has examined your pet’s dental condition, they may recommend a professional dental cleaning, which will include:

  • Pre-procedure medication to help your pet relax — Pets first receive medication to help them relax. This reduces the anesthesia level needed during the procedure, making the process safer.
  • Anesthesia for your pet’s comfort and safety Pet owners often ask why their pet needs general anesthesia for a dental cleaning and show concern about the process. But, anesthesia is critical to ensure your pet is safe and pain-free. Anesthetizing your pet allows veterinarians to:
    • Ensure pet comfort, and stillness
    • Prevent debris from entering their airway
    • Access the entire oral cavity
    • Take dental X-rays 
    • Clean below the gum line, where periodontal disease lives

  • X-rays for identifying periodontal disease — Dental X-rays, which are taken while your pet is comfortably anesthetized, are essential for identifying your pet’s periodontal disease progression. Periodontal disease lives mostly below the gum line, and unchecked, can damage tooth roots, creating pain, infection, and inflammation. 
  • Scaling and polishing of your pet’s teeth — The cleaning portion of your pet’s dental first involves scaling (i.e., the thorough removal of plaque and calculus from the tooth crown, as well as below the gum line). Dental instruments are designed to effectively break away damaging bacterial buildup, while protecting the tooth’s surface. After scaling, each side of every tooth is polished to the surface, and create a barrier to deter bacteria accumulation.
  • Extraction of problem teeth, if necessary — If your pet needs teeth removed, or your veterinarian determines other treatments are necessary, they will not move forward without your approval.  Once you agree to the treatment plan, your pet will be prepared according to the problem location and treatment plan.
  • Debriefing to support your pet at home — After your pet’s dental cleaning, your veterinarian will explain what took place, and what you should do going forward, to continue your pet’s at-home oral care and your options, such as toothbrushing, dental diets, water additives, and chews. 

If any of your pet’s teeth were extracted during the procedure, your veterinarian will review what took place, explain how to administer your pet’s pain medication or antibiotics, advise you to feed only soft food, and schedule a follow-up appointment, to ensure proper healing.

Dental health is extremely important for your pet’s overall health, and regular professional dental cleanings are critical for good dental health. National Pet Dental Health Month is the perfect time to schedule your pet’s next dental examination, so contact Animal Medical Hospital of Naples as soon as possible.