Vet Blog

The 5 W’s of Professional Dental Cleanings for Pets

February 21, 2023

Many pet owners have questions regarding their pet's professional dental cleaning.

Do you wonder if your pet's professional dental cleanings are similar to your own? Or, is your pet's procedure no more than an extensive toothbrushing? Our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team clears up the confusion surrounding veterinary dental cleanings by answering your questions about your furry pal's professional dental cleaning, frequency, and at-home oral care.

Who Should Receive a Professional Dental Cleaning?

To help preserve their oral and overall health, all pets should receive professional dental cleanings throughout their life. Whether your pet is a cat or dog, young or old, large or small, they require comprehensive dental cleanings to root out dental disease, treat periodontal problems, and remove oral bacteria, plaque, and tartar.

What Happens During Professional Dental Cleanings for Pets?

With a few important distinctions, such as anesthesia, pets' professional dental cleanings are similar to those performed in humans. When performing your pet's professional dental cleaning, our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team follows these steps:

Step #1: Physical Exam

Our team conducts a preanesthetic physical exam to evaluate your pet's health. We also run blood work to check for hidden problems, such as organ dysfunction, infection, dehydration, or anemia.

Step #2: Anesthesia

Our team creates your pet's customized anesthetic protocol, and after placing an intravenous (IV) catheter, administers pain medication and a sedative.

Step #3: Thorough Oral Exam

After administering your pet's general anesthesia, we can safely and easily evaluate their oral health without causing them stress or discomfort. Our team inspects each tooth and the surrounding gingival tissue for periodontal disease. In addition, to detect oral health issues, we look under your pet's tongue and at all their oral structures. Our team also takes full-mouth dental X-rays to check for hidden problems below the gumline. Because 60% of a tooth's structure is beneath the gumline, X-rays are essential for diagnosing tooth-root fragments and abscesses, fractured teeth, or bone loss.

Step #4: Dental Cleaning

Once our team has identified and treated your pet's dental problems, we begin the procedure's cleaning portion. After our team removes plaque and tartar above and below the gumline, we polish the enamel smooth to create a bacteria-resistant surface.

Step #5: Recovery

After we have completed your pet's professional dental procedure-examination, X-rays, cleaning, and polishing-we help them recover from anesthesia.

Step #6: At-Home Care

Begin or continue your pet's dental care routine at home by regularly brushing your pet's teeth and providing them with approved dental health products.

Where Do Professional Dental Cleanings for Pets Occur?

The only place dental cleanings should take place is at a veterinary hospital, under your veterinarian's and their team's direct supervision. Although pet groomers and other people in the industry may offer anesthesia-free dental cleanings, these procedures are unsafe. While your pet's smile may appear white after an anesthesia-free cleaning, pathology and tartar below the gumline is not addressed. Pets do not receive any pain medication or sedation, leaving them susceptible to the discomfort of restraint and sharp dental instruments. Dental X-rays are not taken, so numerous periodontal problems will go undiagnosed, leaving your pet in pain and suffering from infection. Because they are unlicensed to do so, these providers cannot prescribe post-cleaning antibiotics and pain medications, leaving your pet in pain and at risk for developing infection.

When Should Professional Dental Cleanings for Pets Be Performed?

Your veterinarian will likely perform an initial professional dental cleaning when your pet is between 2 and 3 years of age. However, some pets require a professional dental cleaning at a much younger age-perhaps even at 6 months. After your pet's initial professional dental cleaning and depending on various factors, they may need a professional dental cleaning every 6 to 24 months. Factors that determine your pet's professional dental cleaning frequency include:

  • Age - An older pet generally has worse dental disease because years of use wear down tooth enamel, creating an irregular surface that attracts sticky oral bacteria.
  • Size - A small pet may have a diminutive-sized mouth, creating tooth crowding, which increases their risk for trapping food, fur, and other debris between their teeth.
  • Breed - Certain breeds are genetically or anatomically predisposed to developing dental disease. Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) pets, such as bulldogs, Boston terriers, and shih tzus, have bite malocclusions that damage teeth and increase tartar accumulation. In addition, Yorkies, dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and greyhounds are breeds that are notorious for having poor oral health, so they require more frequent professional dental cleanings.
  • Chewing habits - Pets who chew anything they can get their jaws around are more likely to damage their teeth, requiring more frequent dental cleanings and potentially oral surgery.
  • At-home dental care - Pets who follow no at-home dental care routine accumulate tartar much more quickly and suffer from more severe dental disease than pets whose teeth are brushed regularly.
  • Health conditions - Some infectious and autoimmune diseases can attack the oral tissues, causing enamel defects and stomatitis.

Why Should Professional Dental Cleanings for Pets Be Done?

Up to 85% of cats and dogs have dental disease by 3 years of age, and all that oral bacteria can take a serious toll on your pet's dental and overall health. Left untreated, dental disease can cause painful gingivitis, tooth-root abscesses, tooth decay, or bone loss. Dental disease can become so severe and cause such significant bone loss and tooth damage, that your pet can experience a pathologic jaw fracture. By scheduling regular dental cleanings for your pet, you help minimize their dental disease risk, keeping their mouth pain- and infection-free.

Determining when your pet needs a professional dental cleaning can be a difficult decision to make on your own. We can recommend when your pet should have their initial or regular professional dental cleaning. Schedule an oral exam with our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team.