Why a "Dental Cleaning" is More Than Just a Cleaning

You were just told your pet needs a dental cleaning. When you hear those words you think about what that means when you are a person but what does it mean for your pet? Veterinary dentistry is a field that many veterinarians can perform but not every veterinarian is a dental specialist. "Dentals" in pets can range from just a simple cleaning to needing teeth extracted to root canals. Every pet has a different need when it comes to a dental cleaning which is why every "cleaning" is more than just cleaning. In this article, we will discuss what that means.

Why anesthesia?

The biggest concern we hear is "why does my pet have to undergo anesthesia?" Anesthesia can be a very scary thing but it doesn't have to be. With all anesthetic procedures there is of course a risk. Sometimes, to give the best medicine, we need to take that risk. Pets do not enjoy having us examine their mouths and they are certainly not going to hold still for us to take dental x-rays. Think about your own cleaning, the hygienist must evaluate and then scale your teeth, get in all the nooks and crannies you may have missed while brushing and then polish them. They also need to take dental x-rays which requires you to hold perfectly still in order to get a good image, this is a lot to ask of our animal friends who don't understand what we are asking of them. To properly evaluate the mouth and to give them the best oral care possible, we need them to be asleep. At Westarbor, we require current blood work especially for our older pets to determine if anesthesia is safe for them. This blood work evaluates their kidneys, liver, red and white blood cells, platelets and other organ functions to determine if they can handle medications. If the blood work is good, we then tailor an anesthetic protocol around your pet. As we discussed in a previous article, Westarbor employs Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVT) who are trained and certified to practice anesthesia meaning your pet is receiving the best care. The LVT assigned to your pet and the doctor work together to determine which types of medications are best for your pet to help them have the best experience possible. They receive a pain injection and often a sedative prior to anesthesia to help them relax. They then will receive medication that will help them sleep. They then have a tube placed down their trachea to deliver oxygen and anesthetic gas that keeps them asleep for their procedure. Once under, they are placed on monitoring devices like ECG, blood pressure, Pulse ox and temperature probes to determine that they are doing well under anesthesia. They are constantly monitored throughout the procedure and recovery. They receive pain medications while they are under and will go on home on these pain medications as well if needed. Dr. Clarkson also uses oral nerve blocks just like in human dentistry if he needs to extract any teeth. Our main focus and goal is the best anesthesia and your pet's comfort.

Cleaning the Teeth

Once your pet is under, the LVT begins cleaning the teeth. LVTs are also trained as dental hygienists. They are taught to clean teeth thoroughly using ultrasonic cleaning and manual tools. Some of these tools are used in human dentistry and some are specialized for animal dentistry. They take their time to remove all of the plaque and tartar from your pet's teeth and then polish the teeth once they are clean. The ultrasonic scaler removes plaque and tartar using small, pulsing waves and water.

It is extremely effective at getting the main crown of the tooth clean. Small curettes are then used to remove any tartar left behind and to get in-between teeth and under gingiva where tartar and bacteria can hide. These tools will naturally create tiny grooves in the teeth in order to clean them. The polisher then removes the grooves created and removes stains from teeth getting them as clean as possible. The LVT then applies fluoride to your pet's teeth to help strengthen and repair the enamel. Any excess fluoride is removed from the mouth to make sure there is no risk of your pet swallowing it.

The Oral Exam

Once your pet's mouth has been cleaned, the veterinarian will then come in and perform a full oral exam. They will look at each tooth individually from tip to gum line. They will document any fractures, gingivitis, crown damage, tooth root exposure, recessed gum tissue and "pockets" or areas where the gum tissue is coming away from the tooth and determine what will need to be done about them. Once every tooth is examined individually they will determine what next step is needed. If the pet is young and has no damage or bad disease they will be woken up from anesthesia. If problems are found, they will move onto dental x-ray and repair and/or extractions.

Dental x-ray

One of the biggest things overlooked in dentistry is the value of the dental x-ray. While you have dental x-rays done at least once a year when you go to the dentist, dental x-ray in a newer concept in veterinary medicine. While you can easily see a fractured tooth, a discolored tooth, tooth root exposure and gingivitis, you cannot see what is happening underneath that gum line. The gum line protects the tooth root but also blocks us from being able to see anything happening underneath. A tooth can look perfectly fine from the outside, but have problems lying underneath. Dental x-ray allows us to look at what can't be seen to determine if a tooth needs to be removed or if something else can be done. Dental x-ray also allows us to evaluate the jaw bone which is often affected by dental disease and can turn fragile over time. Westarbor believes that excellent dental care cannot be provided without dental x-ray which is why we do it on every dental to make sure we are not only evaluating what's on the outside but what's on the inside as well. It allows us to catch problems sooner rather than later and ensures that we are doing the right thing by our patient and not removing any teeth that shouldn't be removed or making sure we need remove or repair teeth that need it.

Tooth Extractions

Sometimes on x-ray or oral exam, we find teeth that need to be removed for various reasons. They tooth has root damage, it is fractured and infected, the internal part of the tooth or pulp cavity is compromised, the bone is infected, etc. When these things are found sometimes there is no alternative to removing the tooth. When this is done, the area is blocked with a long-acting numbing agent to provide the pet as much pain control as possible. It is removed using proper techniques to ensure the entire tooth including the root is completely removed and none is left behind which can cause infections or pain. The area is then sutured back together with dissolvable suture to ensure a fast and effective healing. Another dental x-ray is also taken of the area to ensure that the root is gone and nothing is left behind. We work hard to ensure that it is done correctly to ensure no future complications.

Other Procedures

Dr. Clarkson has been practicing veterinary dentistry for 30 years which means he is also well versed in other ways to deal with teeth or vital pulpotomy as well. Some fractured teeth do not need to be removed but can have root canals performed to remove the pulp cavity from the tooth to stop pain but allow the pet to keep the tooth. He has also done braces, crown caps and jaw corrections for misalignments. He is a referral dentist which means you will receive the best dentistry possible.

While lots of clinics offer dentistry as it is common thing in dental practice it is important to recognize that not every dental cleaning is the same. The techniques, the equipment, medications and anesthesia vary a lot by clinic but also vary by patient as well. A "cheap dental" is just that, a cheap dental. It is important to know what your veterinarian is capable of to determine if your pet is receiving the best care possible. Always ask questions and feel comfortable about the procedure being performed on your pet, they are part of your family and deserve the best. If your pet is in need of a dental cleaning, please feel free to call us and ask questions! Westarbor is always here for you and our staff would be happy to ease your mind in any way they can.

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