Pets develop dental disease with startling frequency—nearly 80% have some disease signs by age 3. Dental disease develops when plaque forms a sticky layer on teeth, which over time hardens into tartar, and attracts bacteria to the gum line. Tartar continues to accumulate if the plaque is not removed by brushing or other oral care measures, causing gum irritation (i.e., gingivitis), and eventually leading to gum recession, bone and tissue erosion, infections, and tooth loss. 

Like people, pets require professional dental care for dental disease prevention and treatment. Your Staples Mill Animal Hospital team offers a full range of dental services, and recommends that your pet be seen at least annually for a dental health assessment. If we recommend a professional cleaning for your pet, we understand you may have questions about the process. Here are some frequently asked questions about professional pet dental cleanings.

Question: Why should my pet’s teeth be professionally cleaned?

Answer: Untreated dental disease can cause your pet to suffer from oral pain, bad breath, difficulty chewing, and an overall decreased quality of life. Bacteria from severe dental infections can also spread, and permanently damage vital organs. Worse yet, since pets instinctually hide pain, you may not notice these issues developing. Professional dental cleanings can be used as a preventive measure to keep the mouth healthy, and to treat more advanced dental disease. 

Q: What does a professional pet dental cleaning include?

A: Professional pet dental cleanings are performed by your veterinarian, with your pet under general anesthesia. The cleaning process includes:

  • X-rays — X-rays help your veterinarian evaluate the tooth structure and jawbone below the gum line, and help diagnose fractures, cysts, unerupted teeth, bone loss, and tooth root abscesses. 
  • Scaling — Hand instruments and ultrasonic scalers remove plaque and tartar from above and below the gum line. 
  • Polishing — A spinning tool and abrasive paste polish the teeth after scaling, to remove roughness or abrasions caused by the cleaning process. A smooth surface repels future plaque and tartar buildup.
  • Complete oral exam — Your veterinarian examines each tooth and notes abnormalities in the pet’s medical record. They are looking for loose teeth, gingivitis, deep gum pockets, fractures, enamel wear, cavities, resorptive lesions, and tumors. Your veterinarian will then cross-reference their exam findings with X-rays to determine if treatment is required.
  • Treatments and extractions — With the pet owner’s approval, treatments that may include periodontal therapies like root planing (i.e., deep cleaning), local antibiotic applications, or oral surgery, including extraction of loose, infected, or “dead” teeth, are completed. Treatments are key to save remaining teeth, eliminate pain, and slow future disease progression.
  • Fluoride or sealant — Remaining teeth are treated with waxy plaque-repellent sealant or fluoride, to help teeth stay healthy longer.

Q: Why is anesthesia required for a professional pet dental cleaning?

A: Anesthesia is the only way your veterinarian can truly evaluate your pet’s whole mouth. Most dental problems requiring treatment are evident only on X-ray, which requires us to precisely position a delicate plate inside your pet’s mouth, without them moving or biting down. The teeth cleaning process also involves loud, scary machinery, and probably takes longer than you think. You can see how these steps can be accomplished only in an anesthetized pet. Be wary of “non-anesthesia dentistry” that other hospitals or non-veterinary businesses offer, as these services can be overly stressful for your pet, unsafe for the person performing the service, and provide only a superficial clean without addressing underlying disease.

Q: How should I care for my pet after a professional dental cleaning?

A: Your pet will need some extra love and care after anesthesia, but most feel back to themselves by the next day. If your pet had teeth extracted, you may have to soften their food for a few days or weeks, to protect the healing sites. Extraction sites are closed with dissolving sutures, and cause little discomfort compared with their previously painful teeth. Pets who did not need extractions will require one to two weeks, to allow the gums to heal, before beginning an oral home care regimen.

Q: How often will my pet need professional dental cleanings?

A: The rate at which pets accumulate plaque and tartar varies depending on breed, size, age, and individual genetics. Generally, small-breed dogs and those with extra short or long noses require more frequent cleanings than larger breeds and those with more “neutral” head shapes. If you have a small-breed dog, plan on once- or twice-yearly cleanings, while larger breeds may be able to go for longer time periods between cleanings.

Q: How can I extend the time between my pet’s professional dental cleanings?

A: A good oral home care regimen is essential for your pet’s overall dental health, and can help extend the time between cleanings. Oral home care should ideally include daily toothbrushing, but at least a few times weekly. Your veterinarian can show you how to brush your pet’s teeth, or recommend other oral health products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), if your pet will not accept toothbrushing. 

Call us to schedule an appointment with your Staples Mill Animal Hospital team for an oral exam, or professional dental cleaning, or with any questions you may have about your pet’s oral home care.