Teeth are essential tools for almost all creatures, but they are also a trap for bits of everything eaten and home for the bacteria that produce bad breath. Does your cat or dog have what we jokingly call “dragon breath?”
That bad breath is just one symptom of dental disease and changes in oral health. And, as recent veterinary studies have confirmed, maintaining good oral health for your pet is key for maintaining overall good health and can add years to your pet’s life. The best oral care for your pet is going to involve both home care, such as regular brushing, and professional veterinary dental care.
Because our patients wiggle and move, veterinarians advocate for professional veterinary dental cleanings under general anesthesia for safety as well as thoroughness. Additionally, having a pet anesthetized for the procedure means each tooth can be carefully cleaned and evaluated for periodontal pockets, small or large fractures or other concerns that are not possible in an awake animal.
If the thought of anesthesia scares you, it shouldn’t. While nothing in life is ever without risk, advances in the drugs used, screening with pre-anesthetic blood work and dedicated monitoring have allowed us to minimize risks as much as humanly possible. Always feel free to ask your veterinarian to explain their pre-anesthetic protocols, such as requiring blood work, supportive monitoring and anesthetic drugs used.
So what is actually done during a professional veterinary dental cleaning? Once the pet is safely under anesthesia and being closely monitored, the teeth are first cleaned by hand, removing large pieces of tartar; then an ultrasonic scaler is used to break up and remove the remaining visible and invisible tartar above and just below the gum line. Because the scaling roughs up the surface of the tooth, the teeth are then polished to smooth shine with a special paste, just like when we have our teeth cleaned at the dentist. Next, each tooth is evaluated visually and with a dental probe to check for damage, gum recession and periodontal pockets. If a problem tooth is found or if the pet had very severe tartar issues, then dental x-rays are taken to look at root health – remember a large portion of the tooth lies below the gums and problems such as tooth root abscesses occur at the tips of the roots. If there is a problem, depending on the issue and degree of damage, treatment would follow and could include periodontal treatment, bonding a sealant onto a small chip fracture, or extraction. For some teeth, a boarded veterinary dentist can be scheduled for a root canal or other endodontic treatment to help keep a larger tooth useable.
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