Periodontal disease can cause pain, inflammation, infection, and other serious health problems for your pet, significantly decreasing their quality of life. Providing appropriate dental care can counteract these issues, prolonging their life. Our team at Billings Animal Family Hospital wants to explain why a professional veterinary dental cleaning is so important and what is involved in this procedure.

Why is a professional veterinary dental cleaning so important?

When your pet eats, small food particles are left behind that attract bacteria. These bacteria accumulate in your pet’s mouth to form plaque, which develops into tartar if not removed. In addition, the bacteria can spread under your pet’s gumline, resulting in inflammation and damage to the structures supporting their teeth. This bacterial invasion can cause significant problems for your pet.

  • Oral pain — The initial stages of periodontal disease cause the gums to be swollen and inflamed, and they may bleed. This condition is extremely uncomfortable for your pet, and as it worsens, their discomfort and pain only increase.
  • Tooth-root abscesses — When bacteria invade under the gumline, pathogens can infect the tooth root, resulting in an abscess. Tooth-root abscesses are extremely painful for pets and can affect their eyes if the back molars are infected. 
  • Loose teeth — If not addressed, periodontal disease continues to break down the supporting structures of your pet’s teeth, resulting in loose teeth. Once greater than 50% of a tooth’s attachment is lost, the tooth is not salvageable and must be extracted.
  • Jaw fractures — Toy breed dogs and cats are susceptible to jaw fractures if their periodontal disease is severe because their tooth roots are close to the edges of their jawbone. 
  • Organ damage — Bacteria also can enter your pet’s bloodstream, causing damage to organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.

What does a professional veterinary dental cleaning involve?

When you bring your pet in for a professional dental cleaning, they will receive a comprehensive evaluation and a thorough cleaning. Steps involved include:

  • Physical examination — We will perform a physical examination to ensure no health problems are present that should be addressed before the procedure.
  • Blood work — We will perform a complete blood count to assess your pet’s immune status and a biochemistry profile to ensure their liver and kidney functions are normal.
  • General anesthesia — We will give your pet general anesthesia for the procedure. Attempting to perform an effective dental cleaning on an awake pet is dangerous for both the pet and the veterinary professional performing the procedure. Your pet will be intubated to deliver the anesthetic gas and oxygen and to ensure water and other debris do not enter their lungs. Their vital signs will be monitored closely throughout the procedure and while they recover.
  • Dental X-rays — We will take dental X-rays once your pet is under general anesthesia. X-rays are necessary because 60% of your pet’s teeth are below the gumline, and this is the only way to accurately assess your pet’s dental health.
  • Teeth scaling — We will use specialized dental instruments to remove the plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth and below their gumline. 
  • Crown polishing — We will polish your pet’s teeth to eliminate the rough areas on the enamel that occur during scaling. Bacteria can accumulate in these rough areas, or microabrasions, if they are not eliminated. 
  • Periodontal probing — We will probe the tissue around your pet’s teeth to look for abnormally deep pockets.
  • Extractions — We will extract a tooth if 50% or more of its supporting structure is lost to prevent ongoing problems.
  • Anti-plaque treatment — We may apply anti-plaque sealants to your pet’s teeth to help decrease plaque accumulation.
  • Antibiotic treatment — We may prescribe antibiotic treatment depending on the severity of your pet’s periodontal disease.

If I brush my pet’s teeth, do they still need a professional dental cleaning?

While brushing your pet’s teeth is a great way to promote their dental health between cleanings, it does not replace a professional procedure. Issues to consider when brushing your pet’s teeth include:

  • Mouth handling — Take time to help your pet get used to having their mouth handled. When they comfortably accept you rubbing your finger on their gums and teeth, they will be more likely to cooperate with teethbrushing.
  • Products — Use pet-specific toothpaste because human products can be harmful to pets. You can find pet toothpaste in several flavors, including beef, poultry, seafood, and peanut butter. In addition, ensure the brush you use is soft and small enough to fit in your pet’s mouth easily.
  • Treats — Offer praise throughout every session, and give your pet a treat at the end to make the experience positive.

What if my pet will not let me brush their teeth?

Some pets never get the hang of having their teeth brushed and refuse to participate. Other ways you can keep your pet’s mouth healthy between professional dental cleanings include:

  • Dental chews — Pets love to chew, and the action can help scrub away some plaque and tartar. Ensure the chews you choose aren’t too hard. Products such as antlers, bones, and hooves are extremely hard and can damage your pet’s mouth. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) seal to ensure the product you buy is effective.
  • Prescription dental foods — Prescription diets are available that have been specifically formulated to reduce dental disease. The kibble size and shape clean the surface of the tooth when your pet chews the food, and additives are included that help decrease plaque accumulation.

Your pet will benefit from having regular professional dental cleanings, and practicing at-home dental care also will help keep their mouth healthy between visits. If you would like to schedule a professional dental cleaning, contact our team at Billings Animal Family Hospital so we can tailor a dental health care plan for your pet.