Why does my cat or dog need a dental cleaning?
Dogs and cats can develop oral diseases like periodontal disease and gingivitis, caused by the buildup of tartar and plaque on their teeth and underneath their gums. Over time, these conditions can lead to pain, inflammation, infection, tooth decay, and tooth or bone loss. Plaque and bacteria can also enter your dog’s bloodstream, and affect other organs like your dog’s heart, liver, and kidneys.
Periodically, your pet will need veterinary dental cleanings to ensure any oral and dental conditions don’t progress, avoiding the potential for a great deal of pain and serious health issues for your pet.
Regular, at-home brushing is also highly recommended, as it helps to keep your pet's mouth healthy every day, and can also reduce the number of veterinary cleanings they will require over their lifetime! However, even pets whose teeth are regularly cleaned at home will still require occasional veterinary dental cleaning, which is able to more thoroughly remove plaque and tartar from the teeth.
What does a pet dental cleaning involve?
At Small Door, we have a specialized, state-of-the-art dental suite for all dental cleanings and procedures. Your pet will have anesthesia to keep them safe while our doctors clean their teeth.
Dental cleaning begins with scaling, where our nurses use an ultrasonic cleaning machine to remove any plaque and tartar above and below the gumline.
We’ll then polish your pet’s teeth. Polishing leaves the surface of the teeth smooth, removing tiny scratches in the enamel, which helps prevent buildup of plaque and tartar in the future. (Cleaning teeth without polishing afterwards leaves teeth with microabrasions, which actually makes plaque build up faster!)
The doctor will then thoroughly inspect your pet’s teeth for any cavities, fractures and other dental issues, and we’ll take full dental radiographs (a type of x-ray) to check for any issues that are hiding below the gumline. If your pet requires any surgical dental extractions, our doctors will perform this during the same procedure.
What to expect
Before your cat or dog comes in for their dental cleaning, we’ll see them for a pre-operative appointment to discuss the procedure and check their health. This will include a physical exam plus some bloodwork to make sure your pet is healthy for surgery.
The night before your pet’s dental, you’ll need to withhold food from midnight onwards, but you can keep providing water. Make sure everyone in your household is aware, so no-one accidentally gives them breakfast!
You’ll drop your pet off with us in the morning and leave them at the hospital until the procedure is complete and they’ve recovered from the anesthesia. We’ll send you regular updates and photos or videos of your pet throughout the day to let you know how they’re doing. You’ll then be able to pick them up later on the same day, unless there are any complications.
Post dental care
Most cats and dogs recover relatively quickly from dental cleaning. A little wooziness is not unusual, and some post-anesthesia anxiety and fussiness is normal. You can feed your pet the evening of their procedure; soft food is recommended if any dental extractions were performed. If your pet required a lot of oral manipulation during the procedure, or any extractions were performed, we will send them home with pain relief to keep them comfortable.
- I brush my pet’s teeth/give my pet dental chews/toys. Do they still need a veterinary dental cleaning?Yes. Brushing reduces the amount of tartar, plaque, and harmful bacteria in your dog’s mouth, but it doesn’t entirely eliminate them. And although dental chews and toys can help to scrape off some of the plaque that builds up on your pet’s teeth, again, they cannot eliminate it entirely. Your pet will still need dental cleanings periodically, just as people do. Our licensed nurses can thoroughly clean your pet’s teeth and gums, and our doctors will examine and address any cavities, fractures, and other dental issues.
- Why does my pet need to go under anesthesia for a dental? Is it safe?Many pet owners are understandably worried about their pet undergoing anesthesia, but it’s far more dangerous for pets to have dental procedures without it. Anesthesia is a common procedure and is very safe; your vet will conduct checks, including blood tests, to make sure your pet is a suitable candidate for anesthesia before the procedure. If there’s ever any doubt about the safety of anesthesia for your pet, your vet will speak to you about suitable alternatives.
- Can you do an anesthesia-free cleaning?No, anesthesia-free cleaning is very dangerous for pets. Without anesthesia, they will undoubtedly be concerned about what’s going on, and will squirm. Any movement, no matter how small, while teeth cleaning instruments are in your pet’s mouth, could cause serious injury, pain, or fear. A thorough dental cleaning also requires some cleaning underneath the gums, which will be painful for your pet without anesthesia.
- How long will it take?Dental procedures may take from 1.5 - 4 hours, depending on the extent and complexity of the cleaning required, and whether your pet needs to have any teeth extracted. You’ll drop your pet off in the morning and will be able to pick them up later the same day once the anesthesia has worn off.
- Why would my pet need an extraction?There are a number of reasons why your pet may need a tooth extracted. They could be suffering from an infection or tooth decay, or the tooth may have broken after chewing on a hard object like a bone. Periodontal disease can damage the pulp and nerves under the teeth, and extraction may be the only way to alleviate the pain. Lastly, retained baby teeth, overcrowded teeth and misaligned teeth may also require extractions, to ensure your pet’s mouth is able to continue developing correctly. Whatever the reason, our doctors will only recommend extractions if they are in the best interest of your pet, to relieve pain and help halt the progression of periodontal disease.
- Will it fix my pet’s bad breath?Bad breath is one of the key signs of dental disease, and a dental cleaning usually eliminates this. There can be other causes of bad breath, and so if your pet’s bad breath persists after their cleaning, our doctors can advise on any other treatment required.
- What are some of the signs that my pet needs a dental cleaning?There are many signs your pet may need a dental cleaning, including bad breath, visible tartar on their teeth, bleeding gums, or any sign of oral pain, including inability to chew, favoring one side of the mouth, or pawing at the mouth. By cleaning your pet’s teeth daily, you’ll be well placed to notice any concerning changes in their dental health. Our doctors will also check your pet’s teeth at every wellness appointment.
- How much will it cost?Dental cleanings are unique to each pet, and the cost may vary depending on your pet’s weight, the extent of dental disease and if tooth extractions are needed. The cost may also vary depending on your membership plan (as some costs are included in certain plans), and we’ll also perform a pre-operative exam to ensure your pet is ready to undergo anesthesia. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about costs for your pet.
- Does my pet need a pre-op appointment?Yes, it’s important for our vets to examine your pet before they undergo dental cleaning, to ensure they’re in good health and there are no unforeseen risks. At your pet’s pre-op appointment, we’ll conduct blood tests and a cardiac ECG to ensure your pet is as safe as possible and healthy enough to proceed with an anesthetic.
- How often does my pet need a dental cleaning?If you take care of your pet’s teeth at home with daily brushing, they will probably require a veterinary dental cleaning roughly every 2-3 years, however there is great variability amongst pets, with some smaller dogs and cats requiring yearly dental cleaning.
- Can I brush my pet’s teeth at home?Yes! We encourage you to brush your pet’s teeth every day. Regular at-home brushing is crucial to reduce the risk of your pet developing dental disease, and means they will require veterinary dental cleanings less often.
- What toothpaste should I use to brush my pet’s teeth?Human toothpaste is dangerous for pets and should never be used to brush their teeth, as it contains fluoride and sometimes xylitol, both of which can be toxic for pets. Instead, use a pet toothpaste. They’re safe, specially designed for animals, and come in flavors your pet will enjoy, like peanut butter or chicken.