Getting a Professional Teeth Cleaning for Your Dog

dog at a dental cleaning


Ирина Мещерякова / Getty Images

Does your dog need a dental cleaning? Perhaps you have smelled some pretty bad breath or seen a lot of tartar on your dog's teeth. Maybe your veterinarian recommended a dental cleaning during a routine wellness examination. You may be hesitant or worried because you don't have all the information. Dental health is an important part of every dog's well-being. If your vet detects dental disease, a professional cleaning may be recommended in order to keep your dog healthy. If you notice signs of dental disease, it's important to discuss it with your vet.

Consider the Types of Professional Dental Cleaning

Professional dental cleaning is sometimes called "dental prophylaxis" in cases of mild disease (because it is a preventive procedure). When dental disease is significant, professional dental cleaning may be considered "periodontal treatment." Most vet offices will simply nickname the procedure a "dental."

Much like your own routine visits to the dentist, a professional dental cleaning involves thorough scaling of the teeth, polishing of the teeth, and close inspection of the teeth, gums, and mouth. No dog will let people tinker around in his mouth with water and metal tools. Therefore, general anesthesia is necessary to do a proper dental cleaning and oral examination.

Before You Begin

While veterinarians strive to make anesthesia as safe as possible, it is not without risk. Animals with underlying health conditions will be at greater risk for anesthetic complications. Therefore, most vets recommend lab work before a dental cleaning.

Normal lab results assure your vet that anesthesia poses the lowest risk possible. Abnormal lab results will let your vet know that anesthesia protocols need adjustment or that it may not be safe to use anesthesia on your dog at all. This will also allow your vet to begin treatment for an illness of which you weren't yet aware.

Preparing for Anesthesia

Once lab results have cleared your dog for the anesthesia to do the dental cleaning, some preparations will be made. A veterinary technician will likely place an intravenous catheter to deliver drugs and fluids to your dog during the procedure. A "pre-medication" injection may be given to bring on some relaxation and pain relief before the procedure begins.

When your dog's dental is about to begin, an anesthetic drug will be injected, causing your dog to fall asleep quickly. Next, a breathing tube is placed through your dog's mouth into the trachea. This tube ensures an open airway during the procedure through which oxygen and anesthetic gas can be delivered. It also prevents liquids and bacteria in the mouth from entering the airway and lungs.

During the procedure, your dog's anesthesia level will be maintained and adjusted by veterinary technicians as well as the veterinarian. In addition, all vital signs will be closely monitored to ensure that your dog is not at risk of complications and that the pup is also not awake or feeling the procedure.

Understanding the Dental Cleaning

Some veterinary clinics will begin the dental procedure with dental radiographs (X-rays). This allows the veterinarian to assess the health of the tooth roots under the gums, not just the visible portion of the mouth. Veterinary technicians typically perform dental prophylaxis or periodontal treatment (much like a dental hygienist will clean your teeth). They do this under the veterinarian's supervision.

The technician begins by rinsing the mouth and doing a general inspection. Next, the dental plaque and tartar are removed using hand tools and the ultrasonic scaler. A special periodontal scaler is used to clean along and just under the gum line, as this is where oral bacteria can do the most damage.

After scaling is complete, the technician will use a periodontal probe to look for signs of periodontal disease and any other abnormalities. The veterinarian will review the radiographs and visually examine the mouth.

If there are no extractions or special treatments needed, the technician will go on to polish the teeth with a rubber-tipped rotary polishing tool and paste (just like the dental hygienist does). Polishing smooths the surface of the tooth to make it more difficult for plaque to adhere. Finally, the mouth is rinsed and dried. A fluoride foam may be placed on the teeth at the very end of the procedure. Your dog will then enter anesthesia recovery, where it will be closely monitored until awake.

dog dental exam
Image courtesy East Atlanta Animal Clinic

Dental Extractions and Special Treatments

In some cases, your veterinarian will determine that one or more teeth are too diseased and must be removed. This includes teeth that are loose, fractured, or otherwise unhealthy. Extracting a tooth may be fast and simple, especially if the tooth is already loose. A dental extraction could also be an extensive surgical procedure if the diseased tooth is not loose.

Your veterinarian may find areas of dental disease that are not severe enough to warrant extraction. In these cases, a special antibiotic or other treatment may be applied to the area in an attempt to save the tooth. Your veterinarian will inform you of his or her recommendations for your dog after the full dental examination is complete. You can be sure that some kind of home care will be recommended.

The Cost of a Professional Dental Cleaning

The cost of a professional dental cleaning varies by region and vet. It also depends on the amount of dental work your dog needs. In general, you should expect the full cost of a dental cleaning to fall between $300 and $700 depending on the severity of dental disease and the age/size of your dog. Be aware that extractions and special treatments will add to the overall cost, sometimes by several hundred dollars.

The cost may seem like a lot, but most pet owners and experts agree that, in the long run, it is money well spent. Dental disease can lead to many systemic health problems in dogs, such as heart and kidney diseases.

Preventing Problems During a Dental Cleaning

Regular cleaning and proper oral hygiene at home are essential and may prevent the need for a more in-depth dental exam for your dog. Brushing your dog's teeth regularly can also help it get used to dental inspections, making the cleaning easier for everyone involved.

Because your dog will be under anesthesia, it's rare that problems will occur during the exam. The vet may find unexpected results once she enters the dog's mouth, but will discuss any options before taking action.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
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  1. Periodontal Disease in Dogs. Small Door Vet

  2. Dog Dental CareHudson Animal Hospital, 2020

  3. What To Expect at Your Pet’s Teeth Cleaning. Kulshan Vet

  4. What Is a Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning? American Veterinary Dental College, 2020

  5. Periodontal Disease In Small AnimalsVeterinary Manual, 2020