What you need to know about: dog dental "cleanings"


As a licensed vet tech, one of my main jobs is to perform dental prophy's (cleanings) on dogs and cats while under anesthesia. This is the best and safest way to get the job done, since pets can't and won't hold their mouth open while he clean or perform other dental procedures.

Here are some things to know before we dive into the subject of dental cleanings.

Dental cleanings are great and necessary and should occur every 6 months to a year, starting at 3-5 years old. Every dog is different and some need less frequent cleanings. There are things we can do to help decrease periodontal disease!

We should be brushing their teeth at least 2-3 days a week using doggie safe toothpaste.

We should be feeding dry food kibble, as wet food tends to stick to their teeth and cause rapid and premature tooth decay. Dry food can help to scrub off some of the tartar as they eat. Chew toys and bones can help with this also!

Yes, dog's CAN have gingivitis, overbite/underbite, halitosis (bad breath), cavities (caries), tooth root abscesses (infected tooth), tartar, plaque and calculus (hardened, mineralized tartar).

Yes, dog's DO need dental x-rays, extractions, pain medications, antibiotics, dental hygiene products (ask your vet which are best for your pup).

No, you CAN'T do a cleaning while awake! It's unethical to do so, believe it or not.

No, the "Dental Cleaning Special" does NOT include any of the extras I mentioned.

What does a dental cleaning include?

*Physical exam by the Dr- required by law

*An IV Catheter and IV fluids- this is necessary for a few reasons. 1) In case of an emergency, we have direct access to a vein to administer emergency medications and 2) During anesthesia, some pets may require some help from IV fluids in maintaining some bodily functions and vitals.

*Medical waste handling fee- this is what the owner is charged as part of a community effort, the equipment and supplies used to examine, treat and care for your dog have to be handled and disposed of in a legally required hazardous waste bin that is not cheap and needs to be taken away to be properly disposed of to keep your pet and all the other pets safe.

*Pre-anesthesia medications- This can vary depending on many factors. The procedure type, expectation of pain, level of sedation required, medical conditions, and what other medications will be used throughout the procedure.

*Inhalant/gas anesthesia (Sevoflurane, Isoflurane most commonly used)- This is the gas inhalant that keeps your pup in a peaceful slumber while we use the dental equipment to clean, scrub, scrape, vibrate, flush, polish, examine, inspect, radiograph and perform procedures on their teeth, mouth and maybe other areas of the body if other procedures are needing to be done at the same time. The cost usually depends on the length of time the patient is "under anesthesia", this usually increases the more complex the dental issues or the more procedures that are being done.

*Hospitalization, day boarding or other fee that cover the cost of housing your pet in the safe and secure hospital environment under the watchful, trained eyes of the vet medical staff.

*Induction medications- this is the injectable medication(s) that will be used to allow your pup to relax all the way, so the team can place a breathing (Endo-tracheal) tube and get the oxygen and gas anesthesia flowing to them.

*Pre-op bloodwork- some places will have a basic blood panel included in their dental special package. This looks at a few key metabolic and hemodynamic parameters that can catch underlying conditions that may not be best for your pet to undergo anesthesia at that time. We don't know until we check! Even young healthy dogs can ABSOLUTELY have underlying issues and we would never know just looking at them jumping around the exam room. Some of the issues that may be found aren't necessarily major issues, and often we will monitor and re-check at a later date, as some things are temporary and caused by so many different factors such as medications, hydration, recent illness, age, diet or actual illness that hasn't quite gotten bad enough yet to show the obvious symptoms. Bottom line- don't skip this step!

*Dental radiographs- necessary for assessing all of the important structures under the gumline that can't be seen any other way. I have seen shiny white teeth that sparkle in the sun, but the x-rays caught an early abscess of the tooth root that we were able to address with medications and save the tooth. I have seen mouths that look terrible, but the x-rays showed that the roots and supporting structures underneath were healthy and strong so the Dr was assured that we didn't need to remove those teeth! You literally never know unless you check, just like the pre-op bloowwork!

*Post-op medications- if your Vet recommends medications, supplements or treatments, get them! There'as a reason. If you don't trust it, ask for details why and ask what is absolutely necessary and what you can wait on. If they get irritated or pushy, I'd worry about that and find another vet.

*Sub-gingival treatments (antibiotics placed under the gumline to try to heal an infected tooth/root in an effort to prolong or save it, laser treatments (local anti-inflammatory and pain management light), bonding (chipped or fractured teeth that can be saved, may have jagged edges or could be painful if left open, bonding helps to seal the tooth), local anesthetic (like lidocaine which can allow the Dr to numb a specific nerve or area if they need to do any painful dental work or extractions. This helps with over-all pain management), injectable medications (like antibiotic, pain medication or others your vet recommends- there's a reason!) and other additional items. Usually, these are only added when the Dr feels it's necessary or they suspect there may be a need once the procedure is under way.

*Nail trim, ear cleaning etc these are much easier to do when your pup is already "napping"!

*If you are unsure or don't understand fully or disagree- speak up!!! Ask questions until you're clear and as comfortable as you can be with the treatment plan.

*Expect a few changes, our pets are all individual so things can occur that we can't know before hand that can affect the treatment plan and therefore, sometimes the cost.