What to Expect at Your Pet’s Dental Procedure

Jan 15, 2020 | Dental

“Your pet needs a dental examination.” Most owners dread the phrase, thinking it is code for yet another expensive, unnecessary procedure.

In reality, dental care is anything but unnecessary. For one, dental disease can be incredibly painful. Left unchecked, it can create serious problems in the heart, kidneys, and other organs. Some of these health conditions are irreversible and truly expensive to treat — much more expensive than dental care.

The Steps of a Veterinary Dental Care Appointment

Instead of a simple teeth cleaning a “dental” is really a comprehensive oral exam with radiographic evaluation. Depending on what the veterinarian finds below the gums, the dental could involve just a cleaning, or it could mean extracting damaged teeth.

Step One of a Veterinary Dental: The Pre-Exam

There are multiple steps associated with performing a “dental.” The first step is pre-anesthetic bloodwork and a physical exam. This allows the veterinarian to assess if your pet is a good candidate for anesthesia and to customize an anesthetic plan just for your pet. This helps reduce the chances of anesthetic complications.

Step Two: Keeping Your Pet Safe Through the Procedure

The next step is placing an intravenous catheter in your pet. This allows us to administer fluids during the procedure. Fluids are vital during these procedures because they allow your pet to maintain its blood pressure and flush harmful accumulations in its kidneys. The IV catheter also allows us to administer life-saving medications quickly and efficiently, if needed. Most patients are induced with injectable medications and maintained on gas anesthesia.

Why Does My Pet Need to be Sedated for a Dental Exam, Anyway?

Dogs and cats do not like having their mouths handled, so they tend to squirm against, and may even bite a vet prodding at their teeth. Not to mention that the procedure itself can be painful and anxiety provoking to our pets — think of common it is for humans to be put under whenever they go to the dentist! For these reasons, we have to anesthetize your pet in order to provide gold standard medicine.

Some businesses perform non-sedated dentals, but this only addresses tartar above the gum-line, and will not address any infections or pain. Non-sedated dentals can even damage the structural integrity of the teeth and cause more harm and pain.

Step Three: Checking Below the Gumline

Once the pet is at a good plane of anesthesia, we perform an oral exam, including radiography. A pet can have a perfectly normal looking mouth on the surface, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Radiographs allow veterinarians to look for abnormalities below the gumline like tooth root abscesses, resorption, retained roots, cysts, and even fractures, to name a few things.

Step Four: Checking Above the Gum Line

Next, we evaluate the crowns — the visible part of the teeth — and the gums themselves. A dental probe and explorer are used to note any pocketing in the gums, where infection may hide, or to find exposed pulp, which is incredibly painful.

How Veterinarians Determine Your Cat or Dog’s Dental Procedure

Once the dental radiographs and visual exam are finished, the veterinarian will be able to decide the best course of action.

Many Dogs and Cats Will Only Require a Dental Cleaning

If the exam found no or very little problems below the gums the veterinarian will proceed with a cleaning. This is very similar to the type of cleaning a human would get at the dentist, clearing away tartar and plaque. However, if the veterinarian found problems below the gums they will extract teeth.

Extractions for Tooth Root Abscesses

One common cause of extractions is a tooth root abscess. The bacteria found at these sites creates a biofilm over themselves which prevents antibiotics from killing them completely. Left untreated, these can be very painful. The only way to cure the abscess is to remove the source of infection itself.

Extractions for Resorptive Lesions

Another reason for extractions are resorptive lesions which are holes found in the teeth that expose the pulp which cause severe pain and can lead to infection. These lesions are so painful that even under anesthesia, the jaw will quiver when these areas are probed. If the tooth is healthy enough to remain, then it will be scaled, polished and have fluoride applied.

Care After Your Pet’s Dental Exam

Once the pet has woken up from anesthesia, your veterinarian will come up with a post-surgical plan. In most cases, you’ll be able to take your pet home the same day. If your cat or dog had a routine dental cleaning, this may just mean keeping it free from excitement for a few days while it recovers from anesthesia. If your pet had an infection and needed teeth extracted, its post-surgical plan will likely include antibiotics and pain medicine.
Establishing an Annual Dental Care Habit

It is incredible how many people note a difference in their pet’s energy and attitudes after a dental. This is because dental disease is painful and causes stress on the body. Dentals should be considered as a CORE (comprehensive oral exam and radiographic evaluation) part of your pets’ health, and you should consider scheduling a cleaning every six months to a year.

— Dr. Jenna Garza, DVM

For more information, contact our team at VETSS, a Charlottesville VA urgent care animal hospital!

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