What happens during a “veterinary dental”?
No other procedure performed on small animals does more to help patients than professional dental cleaning and after care. Preventative dental care or “dental prophylaxis” is performed not only to clean the teeth, but also to evaluate the mouth for any other problems that might be present. One important concept to understand is the difference between a preventative (or “prophylactic”) dental versus a dental procedure involving extractions. Periodontal disease is a hidden disease and unless you go looking for it you will not find it until it is advanced. Our procedures are far more than “scraping tartar off teeth.”So what exactly happens when your pet comes to us for dental care?
1) General anesthesia
Before the dental procedure can begin, the patient must be placed under general anesthetic. This will greatly increase patient comfort and effectiveness of cleaning. In addition, it allows us to place an endotracheal tube in the patient’s wind-pipe. This will protect the lungs from the bacteria that are being removed from the teeth. Sedation and anesthesia are essential for an adequate evaluation and a thorough cleaning. We examine individual teeth for mobility, fractures, and also the area under the gum line, which is the most important part. For this reason, “non-anesthetic” cleaning is not a worthwhile option. Modern veterinary medicine takes into account the health status of your pet and we require a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and a chemistry panel that includes liver and kidney values prior to any anesthetic. We use a variety of safe anesthetics in addition to modern equipment and trained technicians who monitor your pet throughout their dental procedure.
2) Dental X-rays
We take X-rays of the entire mouth using the most modern digital radiographic systems. Did you know that up to 70% of the tooth can lie below the gum line unseen? Dental X-rays show us the inside of the tooth and its root under the gums. Many decisions are based on X-ray findings. Sometimes a tooth may look normal but on X-ray we may see irreparable damage to the root that necessitates removal of the tooth and oral surgery. Trying to practice dentistry without using dental radiographs is like trying to treat ear disease without an otoscope, or diabetes without blood sugar measurements.
3) Therapy to treat any disease found by exam and x-rays
Sometimes it is necessary to extract teeth that are too damaged by disease. These teeth are nonfunctional and can harbor bacteria that may be harmful to your pet’s liver, kidneys, or heart. Removing the diseased tooth eliminates the source of pain and dental surgery is an important and beneficial dental procedure when performed correctly. A dental radiograph is taken to confirm that the entire tooth has been extracted and the remaining alveolus (socket) is free of bone, root remnants or debris.
4) Supragingival (above the gum line) plaque and tartar removal
This is when we clean the portion of the tooth that you can see using an ultrasonic scaler. It is the most visible part of the procedure and gives that “white” appearance to the teeth once the tartar build up is removed. It is important to know that this step is the ONLY step that can be performed (although very poorly) during a “non-anesthetic dental”. The teeth may look cleaner, but the most important parts of the procedure have yet to be done.
5) Subgingival (below the gum line) cleaning
This is cleaning the area under the gum line. In our animal patients, this is one of the most important steps because subgingival plaque and calculus is what causes periodontal disease which in turn leads to pain, tooth loss and loss of bone that holds the teeth. This is the most common ailment diagnosed in ALL our animal patients.
Polishing smoothes out the defects and removes plaque (bacteria) that could not be removed during the previous steps. Pumice or polishing paste is used on a polishing cup for the procedure. Polishing makes it more difficult for plaque to stick to the teeth so it can delay the onset of future dental problems.
Water spray plus an added antimicrobial rinse are used to gently flush and remove debris and diseased tissue from the gingival pocket or sulcus.
8) Fluoride application
Fluoride application serves the strengthen the enamel and helps decrease sensitivity of the teeth
9) Dental Charting
All of the relevant oral findings are recorded on your pet’s record including missing, loose, or fractured teeth as well as any treatment rendered. This will allow the veterinarian to more accurately follow your pet’s progress through the years.
10) Home care
Home care is the single most important procedure the owner can do to maintain oral health.
The pet owner is an integral part of our dental team. The dental visit is not complete until discussion is held on maintaining and improving oral health. This will include a talk on how to brush your pet’s teeth and diets that can actually remove or reduce the buildup of plaque! Once we get your pet’s mouth clean and problem areas addressed, daily brushing should help reduce development of periodontal disease. If you can maintain home care, future procedures should be quicker, require less anesthesia and surgery, and be less expensive.
Dr. Kara Ruthberg