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Your Veterinarian in Fairfax Answers Pet Dental Cleaning FAQs

At Burke Animal Clinic, we believe your pet's dental health is an important part of their overall health care. Dental issues in pets can lead to more serious problems later in life. For example, did you know that one in three dogs and cats has gum disease by the time they're three years old? This disease can lead to permanent tooth loss, affecting your pet's quality of life and making it difficult for them to chew food. Regular dental exams and teeth cleanings aid in the prevention of painful tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health issues. Regular brushing will help keep your pet’s mouth healthy, but routine cleaning under anesthesia by a veterinarian is needed to assess oral health, find problems we can’t see on the exam and treat dental disease.

pet dental cleaning faq from our veterinarian in burke

Are Pets Sedated During Dental Cleanings?

A proper oral health exam, treatment of disease and dental cleaning must be performed while a pet is under anesthesia.  A routine dental cleaning includes an oral cancer screening, digital dental x-ray (which helps diagnose dental and oral disorders that can only be seen below the gumline, such as root fractures and bone loss, irrigation (cleaning the mouth with an antibiotic solution) and hand and ultrasonic scaling and polishing. This is all done under the care of a veterinarian and Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT).

In addition, anesthetizing pets reduces their stress level and removes the ability of struggling, fearful pets to harm themselves.

How Long Does a Pet Dental Cleaning Take?

A routine oral assessment and dental scaling and polishing typically take about 2 hours.  This includes time for x-rays to be taken and reviewed by the doctor.  If extractions are needed your pet will remain sedated for longer. How much longer depends on the type of tooth being extracted and the number of extractions.  Following recovery from anesthesia, you will be able to take your pet home the day of the procedure.  Special instructions will be given for care if extractions are performed.

Learn more about what's involved in a dental cleaning for your pet.

Why Would My Pet Need a Tooth Extracted?

As humans, we worry about cavities.  But, for dogs and cats, this is rare because their diets generally are not high in decay-causing sugars. The most common cause for extracting teeth in pets is a periodontal disease caused by the build-up of tartar and plaque. 

Plaque and tartar form naturally when food remains in the cracks and crevices of the teeth, especially at the gum line. At this point, the plaque is still soft so brushing or chewing hard food and toys can dislodge it. If left to spread, plaque can lead to gingivitis – an inflammation of the gums. Plaque soon hardens into tartar that forms a wedge separating the tooth from the gum. At this point, plaque can grow below the gum line causing damage requiring professional cleaning.

If the plaque and tartar buildup continue unchecked, the tooth becomes infected. In the final and irreversible stages of periodontal disease, the tissue surrounding the tooth is killed, the bony socket holding the tooth erodes, and the tooth falls out or is extracted. This is a very painful process for your pet. 

Will Dental Cleanings Help Get Rid of My Pet's Bad Breath?

Most likely.  It’s a common assumption that dogs and cats just have bad breath normally. Not true!  Bad breath in your pet is not normal.   The cause of bad breath can be due to some type of disease processes, such as the build-up of bacteria, an abscess or abnormal growth. 

The best way to keep your pet’s bad breath at bay is to brush regularly – at least three times a week to be effective. Regular oral exams by your veterinarian will determine when a professional cleaning is needed.  Once your pet has a professional cleaning, that’s the best time to use other products like dental rinses, dental treats, or food and water additives. These products don’t remove buildup as effectively as brushing, but it’s easier for these products to work on a clean mouth.

Can I Brush My Pet's Teeth at Home?

Absolutely!  It’s the best way to keep your pet’s teeth healthy.  You must brush your pet’s teeth at least three times a week to be effective. You don’t have to get every side of every tooth.  Most pets won’t tolerate a detailed brushing so focus on the outside of the teeth.

  • Place your hand over the muzzle from the top.
  • Gently squeeze and push the top jowls (or lips) on one side over the top row of teeth (to keep the mouth open).
  • Pull the head back gently so the mouth opens.
  • Brush teeth on the opposite side. (The easiest way is to wrap a piece of gauze around your finger and rub the teeth gently.)
  • Ask your vet for an enzymatic toothpaste or CET Oral Rinse. DO NOT USE HUMAN TOOTHPASTE.
  • Pet toothbrushes are available through your vet or pet supply store.

Some other tips:

  • Start when your pet is a puppy or kitten.  Get them used to the idea.  Be gentle, as at some point puppies and kittens lose their baby teeth just like we do.
  • Be patient and make it fun.  Use love and praise and reward them after they’re done. 
  • Try different ways to brush and find a brush your pet will tolerate.  You can use a finger brush or soft veterinary or human toothbrush.  If that doesn’t work, try wrapping your finger with gauze and rubbing the teeth gently.
  • Consider dental aids – enzymatic toothpaste, dental chews, rinses, and powders.  Use products made specifically for pets.  Some products that work for humans don’t work for pets and can even be harmful.

What are the Signs of Oral Disease in Pets?

Pet’s can’t talk but sometimes they give us pretty good signs when they’re not well.  Some things to watch for.

  • Yellow/brownish-colored teeth
  • Red inflamed gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth/loss of teeth
  • Persistent Bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Decreased appetite if chewing is painful

A common comment from pet owners after a dental cleaning, especially when an advanced periodontal disease is present, is that their pet is back to his or her normal self!  It’s often upsetting for owners to find out a pet’s teeth need to be extracted, but pets are resilient and they do just fine. And, they usually feel much, much better without the pain from the diseased teeth and inflamed gums.

Call Your Fairfax Veterinarian Today!

For dental care for your pet, please call Burke Animal Clinic today at 703-569-9600 to schedule an appointment with your Fairfax veterinarian.

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