As part of our routine health exams, our veterinarians pay close attention to the condition of your pet’s teeth, because oral health can have a big impact on your pet’s overall health:
- By age 2, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some signs of dental disease
- Untreated dental disease can become severe and lead to tooth loss, bad breath, difficulty eating and pain
- Bacteria in the mouth can travel through the blood stream and affect important organs like heart, liver and kidneys.
When most owners hear the veterinarian recommend a dental cleaning, they become concerned and tend to worry about the process, especially the anesthesia. We wanted to walk you through a typical dental cleaning for one of our patients, from start to finish, to help make our pet guardians more comfortable with the procedure.
Miggy Gets His Teeth Cleaned
Today, we’ll be following Miggy, a 3.5 year old miniature Schnauzer, as he goes through his dental cleaning. The first thing we do when Miggy arrives is to get his weight on our scale, for accurate dosing of medications that are given during the procedure. Just like all surgery patients, Miggy was fasted, with only water allowed overnight, which he wasn’t very happy about.
Miggy is taken into one of our outpatient rooms to wait for one of the veterinarian’s to check him over. Dr. Cocagne gives Miggy a thorough exam before clearing him to proceed with the dental cleaning. All of our surgery patients receive a head to tail exam, with the veterinarian listening to their heart and lungs, and checking their vital signs. This is our first step in making sure your pet is healthy enough for the procedure.
Next, Miggy is brought back to our treatment area, where one of our licensed veterinary technicians checks his temperature, heart rate, respiration rate and the color of his gums. This is also the point where we draw blood for the Pre-anesthetic Blood Panel. This panel looks at basic liver and kidney levels, blood sugar, protein levels and a Complete Blood Count, to look for anemia, infections or other conditions related to the blood cells. If any levels come back abnormal, the admitting veterinarian will decide if there are measures we can take to still safely proceed, or if the cleaning should be postponed until the new concerns have been addressed. Miggy’s blood work is great, so he is given a mild sedative and a pain medicine, in case he needs any teeth pulled. Then, he is set up in a blanket-lined cage in our treatment area. Miggy receives another short acting injection for pain that also adds a little more sedation.
Our last step, before anesthesia, is placing an IV catheter in his front leg, and supporting Miggy throughout his cleaning with IV fluids. IV fluids help us to keep patient’s blood pressure in a normal range, which in turn helps put less stress on the kidneys and liver. IV fluids also help the kidneys and liver to flush out the medications and anesthesia required for the dental cleaning.
Once the IV catheter and fluids are started, Miggy is ready for general anesthesia. He is given medication through a port in the IV line that induces anesthesia, and the technician is able to put in a breathing tube so that Miggy can stay asleep with gas anesthesia that is mixed with oxygen. General anesthesia is necessary to do a thorough dental cleaning so that we can examine the gum tissue and the part of the teeth that sits below the gum line. While the part of the teeth above the gum line may not look too bad, there can be a lot of issues below the gum line that go unseen.
After gas anesthesia is started, we use monitoring equipment to keep an eye on Miggy’s heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, ECG, and carbon dioxide concentration. Once he is connected to the monitor, we keep him warm with a Bair Hugger patient warming unit, just like people get in a human hospital.
Before the actual cleaning process begins, we take a full set of dental x-rays so that we can spot any areas of trouble that are deeper than we can visually examine. Many times, the teeth above the gums will look fine, but x-rays will show deterioration of bone around the root of a tooth, a tooth root abscess, or even a broken tooth root, which would have been missed otherwise. Many of these conditions will require extracting the tooth. Should your pet need teeth pulled, we inject a local anesthetic into the are of extraction, that lasts for a few hours after the procedure, to help manage any pain. We also send home pain medication and antibiotics, if there are any teeth pulled.
Cleaning the tartar off Miggy’s teeth involves a combination of using dental tools to remove tartar and calculus from the teeth, and below the gum line, along with an ultrasonic cleaning device that helps to remove some of the areas with larger amounts of thick calculus. The technician also uses a dental probe to look for areas of loose gum tissue, or pockets, around the teeth.
Once all of Miggy’s teeth are cleaned and any teeth pulled, we use a dental polish on his teeth to smooth out any scrapes from the cleaning tools. This is important, not only for looks, but any irregularity in the surface enamel can be a foothold where tartar can reform. Miggy’s teeth get a good polishing and then we apply a fluoride foam to the teeth. At this point, the procedure is done, and we turn off the gas anesthesia. He gets to stay on oxygen for several minutes until he shows signs of waking up.
Miggy’s breathing tube is removed once he is awake enough to swallow, but his IV fluids will continue until he is able to stand up, walk around, and go outside. Once awake, he will also be offered food and water. Miggy did very well throughout his day at the clinic, and definitely let us know when he was read to go home.
We want to thank Miggy’s guardian, Kim, for letting us share his dental experience. Hopefully, this has helped decrease some of your worries about having a dental cleaning for your pet. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. We are available in the hospital, during our office hours, by phone, by email, and even on Facebook.Swartz Creek Veterinary Hospital 10010 Miller Rd Swartz Creek Mi 48473 firstname.lastname@example.org (810)635-4015