Dog Dental Checkup
In addition to daily tooth brushing, your dog will require regular dental cleanings to prevent canine periodontal disease from occurring. Professional dog teeth cleanings should start at 1 year of age, as 80% of dogs without appropriate dental care will have some evidence of periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years old.
The frequency of professional cleanings will depend on the success of an owner’s at-home dental care. They may be as frequent as every 4 to 6 months in a dog with severe periodontal disease or only every 2 to 3 years if a dog owner has been dedicated to maintaining their dog’s dental health at home.
What is a dog dental checkup?
At your dog’s regularly scheduled annual exam, your veterinarian will inquire about the type and frequency of dental care you have been providing at home. They will assess the condition of your dog’s teeth and gums—looking for evidence of bad breath, visible tartar, red or swollen gums, or loose or obviously missing teeth.
While your veterinarian will be able to detect certain dental abnormalities when your dog is awake, there is a limit to what they can ascertain. To obtain a complete exam, dental x-rays (if needed) and complete cleaning above and below the gum line, a fully anesthetized dental cleaning is necessary. Your veterinarian will typically schedule this cleaning as a follow-up appointment.
What is done during a professional dog dental cleaning?
Your dog will be placed under anesthesia and a complete exam will be performed. Since your dog cannot tell a vet if there is pain associated with a particular tooth, dental x-rays may be needed to ensure nothing is missed. The actual cleaning involves scaling to remove plaque and tartar. After scaling, the teeth are polished to remove residual plaque and to smooth the tooth surface that delays the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Finally, a fluoride treatment or plaque-prevention gel may be applied.
Occasionally pets will require advanced techniques such as tooth removal, root canals, planing, crowns, and certain gum surgeries to control their dental and periodontal disease from progressing. Your VCA veterinarian will discuss these procedures with you and may refer you to a board-certified dental specialist.
Does a dog dental checkup always require anesthesia?
YES! While many owners would prefer to avoid procedures involving anesthesia—especially in older dogs—anesthesia-free dental cleanings are not recommended by the AAHA or American Veterinary Dental College (http://www.avdc.org/dentalscaling.html). Anesthesia-free procedures always result in suboptimal examination and cleaning and also increase the risk of injury to a dog's mouth.
Safe anesthesia for dogs
Your veterinarian will provide the following to ensure a safe anesthesia for your dog:
- A thorough examination and pre-anesthetic blood work to detect problems with infection or malfunctioning organs.
- Anesthesia drugs selected based on your dog's age, breed, health status and the procedure being performed. Quick-acting IV anesthetics and certain anesthetic gases are often preferred.
- Intravenous catheters to provide fluids to prevent dehydration, support blood pressure and provide pain medications for your dog’s comfort.
- A soft tube (endotracheal tube) placed in his or her windpipe during anesthesia to prevent any fluid from blocking the airway during the dental procedure.
- Special equipment to monitor your dog's blood pressure, temperature, pulse, breathing, heart rate and heart rhythm during anesthesia to help minimize complications.
Veterinary anesthesia specialists all agree that dental health should not be neglected in any dog—even seniors—because dental disease often results in tooth and gum infections, pain, loss of teeth and even organ damage. However, if you are worried about putting your dog under anesthesia, you are not alone! Don’t hesitate to speak to your veterinarian and alert them to your concerns. Ask your veterinarian to describe details of the dental procedure and about how your dog will be monitored during and after anesthesia. Finding a knowledgeable veterinarian and staff will help ease your anxiety and help you provide your dog with the best possible dental care.