Copyright. Ginger Langan. All rights reserved.

Dental Care: Frequently Asked Questions
July 1, 2008 (published)
Provided by: Jana Bryant, DVM

Question: Why must my pet undergo anesthesia for a dental cleaning? Can’t the groomer just scrape the tartar off of his teeth?

Tartar is made of bacteria and when it is removed from the surface of the teeth we worry that small pieces could be inhaled by the patient causing a lung infection. For this reason, “Non-anesthetic” cleaning is NEVER recommended. Anesthesia allows us to place an endotracheal tube in the windpipe to prevent infection of the lungs. Secondly, the most important part of the cleaning is the removal of plaque and tartar under the gum line,[360° around the tooth and Dental X-Rays of each tooth and root reveal any problems under the gum line and in the root socket.] This is just not possible in an awake pet. And lastly, the teeth are not polished, which will leave the cleaned surface rough and actually increase the adherence of plaque to the teeth

Question: I am worried about my 13 year old dog undergoing anesthesia for a dental procedure. Is it possible for a dog to be “too old” to benefit from professional dental care?

Some people tell us about pets that have had problems or died under anesthesia. Fifteen or twenty years ago many of these concerns would be valid reasons for not proceeding with an elective procedure in an older pet. Fortunately, things have changed for pets having anesthesia today. Contemporary anesthesia is much safer in several ways.

First, pre-anesthetic testing helps us to recognize those pets that are having internal problems that aren’t yet recognizable by their owners at home. If a problem is found, we can try to resolve it before allowing the pet to undergo anesthesia.

Second, modern inhalant gas is a much safer arrangement than using only injectable agents to achieve an appropriate level of anesthesia. As mentioned above, the endotracheal tube protects against contamination of the lungs by oral or stomach matter.

Third, monitoring has changed from merely watching to see if the dog is breathing to tracking pulse rate and quality, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature, and electrical rhythm of the heart. When pets are being monitored appropriately it allows veterinarians and technicians to detect abnormalities and initiate therapy to avoid anesthetic problems.

Fourth, all pets undergoing dental care now receive fluid therapy by intravenous catheter during anesthesia to maintain vascular volume and blood pressure. This protects sensitive brain and kidney cells. We also use thermal support to prevent hypothermia during anesthesia which can change the rate at which drugs are processed.

I know our clients get tired of us saying it but I really believe that age is not a disease, and mature pets that are otherwise healthy are able to tolerate anesthesia well. A pet that is older is more likely to have more severe periodontal disease and thus more pain. These animals still need care in order to maintain the quality of their lives. Taking care of their gums and teeth is also one of the best ways to extend their lifespan.

Question: Why is cleaning my pet’s teeth more expensive than cleaning my teeth? Why is it more expensive than the last time his teeth were cleaned a few years ago?

The cost of dental care for pets has certainly increased as the quality of anesthesia, cleaning, and services have increased. One example is that we now offer dental radiography, or xrays, which allows us to see the roots and bone surrounding each tooth. We want to provide safe anesthesia and a service that actually helps to treat pain and prevent progression of disease and to do that we need special equipment like a blood pressure monitor, a fluid pump, and an ultrasonic scaler. Most of this equipment is not necessary when humans teeth are cleaned because we are not undergoing anesthesia. Also, remember that usually our hygienist is performing a routine preventative cleaning before hardly any tartar has built up on our teeth. Pets rarely get dental care this early and thus their cleaning is not a true preventative.

Question: The doctor has recommended extraction of some of my pet’s teeth but will he still be able to eat without these teeth?

Yes. Our goal in veterinary dental care is for our patients to have mouths free of infection and pain. It is much better to have no tooth at all than to have an infected tooth with a root abscess or a painful broken tooth. We have many dog and cat patients that are able to eat a regular diet with few or even no teeth! Sometimes a veterinary dental specialist can offer root canals or more advanced therapy to save teeth. Our doctors will always offer referral if there is a possibility of saving teeth.

Question: I can’t tell that my pet is in any pain even though he has broken teeth and red inflamed gums. Wouldn’t he stop eating if he was in any pain?

Some pets will stop eating all together when their teeth, bone, and gums hurt badly enough. The vast majority, however, will find some tactic to keep eating. They may chew on the other side of their mouths or swallow their kibble whole. Pets have an extremely strong instinct to survive no matter what discomfort they feel. Sometimes the symptoms of periodontal disease are so vague that we don’t notice them. Pets may be reluctant to hold their toys in their mouths, be less playful, resent having their teeth brushed, have a hard time sleeping, or have no outward symptoms at all. Often, after we have treated broken teeth or extracted infected teeth, our patients’ parents tell us that they act more energetic and playful than they have in years!!

Question: How often should a routine dental cleaning be performed?

Every patient is different so this is a hard question to answer. Usually the smaller dogs should have their teeth cleaned earlier and more often because their teeth are more crowded in their mouths. Bigger dogs may not develop tartar as quickly but their mouths should be monitored closely for any broken teeth. Cats are all individuals and should be examine closely for any excessive gingivitis which may be an indication of some special cat diseases like resorptive lesions or stomatitis/gingivitis syndrome.

Question: How can periodontal disease hurt my pet?

The possible local (ie in the mouth) effects of periodontal disease are pain, infection of the gums, bone, and/or teeth, and loss of teeth. Chronic infection of the periodontal tissues allows bacteria to enter the circulatory system resulting in seeding of the internal organs (heart, kidneys, liver) and may lead to serious infections in these organs as well.

The darker area that can be seen in the circle, is a good example of an abcess that would otherwise have been missed if not for a dental X-Ray

The picture below shows what the teeth would have looked like externally.

Does Your Pet Have Dental Disease?

Dental Disease and Pets

Dragon Lake Vet Hospital Logo

Book a dental consult and we will waive the pre-anesthetic exam fee when you book your pet's dental procedure with us!

Discount valued at $40.00, this will be taken off your final bill after the dental has been completed.  A deposit may be required on the day of the procedure.  Dental procedure must be booked within 1 month of initial consult, as we want to ensure we are up to date with your pet's current health when we are administering anesthetic.

Financing is available through our partner

For more information, send us a message, or give us a phone call.

What is Dental Disease?

Dental disease, also known as Periodontal disease, occurs in both dogs and cats and it is entirely preventable.
It begins when bacteria in the mouth forms plaque that sticks to the surface of the teeth. That plaque, once exposed to the minerals that are in the saliva, hardens and is then referred to as tartar, also known as dental calculus, and it becomes then firmly attached to the teeth. The real problem occurs when the plaque and tartar spread under the gum line. A bacterium in the plaque, then sets in motion the horrible and destructive cycle of damage to the supporting tissues around the tooth which eventually leads to the loss of the tooth.

Indications of Dental Disease a Pet Owners View

Lifting your cat or dogs lips do you see:

  • Dirty or discoloured teeth – typically an ugly brownish or greenish colour.

    • This is likely plaque or tartar and an early sign of dental disease.

  • Gums – is there redness, swelling, and/or bleeding

    • This indicates a serious gum infection and disease.

  • Bad breath – is it foul smelling and does it make you cringe when your dog goes to give you a kiss.

    • This is usually associated with a bacterial infection. You dog or cat should NOT have bad breath, their breath should be neutral in odor.  Bad breath should not be a reason for you to avoid one-on-one time with your pet.

What to do if your pet has Dental Disease?

A complete dental exam is required under anesthetic. This involves the veterinarian and team preforming an evaluation if your pets oral cavity (mouth). Beginning by taking radiographs ( X-Rays) of all the teeth. This ensures that the team has not missing anything. Sometimes you can’t see the full extent of the damage until x-rays are preformed that way your pet gets the best care needed. Next preforming cleaning not only the surface of the teeth, but underneath the gum line where, as we mentioned before, a lot of bacteria and tartar are found. After all the cleaning is done then the teeth are polished. Polishing is not only to make your pet’s teeth shine but more importantly to smooth the rough surfaces created by the cleaning. Then an antibacterial solution is used to flush below the gum line. Finally the whole mouth is then checked again to ensure that nothing was missed and that any unhealthy or rotting teeth have been removed.

What about non-anesthetic dental cleaning?

Firstly, if your pet has dental disease, cleaning your pet’s teeth without an anesthetic is painful for

your pet. Your pet may move during the procedure which will cause them even more pain and

discomfort and also the instruments used for cleaning are sharp and may cut your pet. It is

important to know that it is ILLEGAL for anyone other than a veterinarian or a supervised and

trained veterinary technician to preform dental cleaning. Now, the biggest issue with non-anesthetic

cleaning is that the teeth are only being cleaned and as discussed previously, this does not address

the tartar and plaque that is accumulating underneath the gum line.

How safe is the anesthetic for your pet?

This is a question that we get all the time and it is a good one. We strive every day to make anesthesia

as safe as we can for our patients. Physical exam, pre-anesthetic bloodwork, and ECGs are a great place to start. When the veterinarian preforms a physical exam they are ensuring your pet has no health concerns that can be seen by the naked eye. This also means the veterinarian is visualizing your pets oral cavity, among many other areas of your pet, to assess the severity of dental disease if any. Why should you do pre-anesthetic blood work and ECGs for your pet? Both of these testing methods allow the veterinarian to see “within” your pet and a lot of the time if we do not look we do not find. The blood work allows the veterinarian to see how your pet’s organs are functioning, for example is your pet’s kidneys and liver functioning well enough to process the anesthesia. An ECG, which has the fancy name of electrocardiogram, is a tool used to determine your pet’s hearts mechanical functions for example, is their heart preforming properly, in its most important life’s job, to make sure all of the body gets the blood and oxygen it needs to survive a healthy life. The physical exam along with the pre-anesthetic testing allows the veterinarian the best opportunity to assess your pet and advise you appropriately. Lastly we are using modern anesthesia techniques, including using intravenous catheters and IV fluids to improve the safety for your pet.  

Prevention & Maintenance

How do we prevent dental disease? Did you know that 4 out of 5 dogs over the age of 4 years have some sort of periodontal disease? At a young age (puppies and kittens) pets should be taught how to have their teeth brushed. Using a diet that is formulated to reduce plaque is essential as well, such as Royal Canin’s Dental diet. Lastly have regular dental cleanings done and a yearly physical exam on your pet is the key to a healthy mouth. Remember early diagnosis and treatment is the best defense against serious dental disease. Caring for your pets teeth will save you money and grief over the long term.