An Explanation of a Dental Procedure

We are now halfway through Dentistry Month, and this blog entry will go through the process of a dental cleaning.  Most people are familiar with the process of a dental cleaning for humans, but the entire process differs in many ways for your dog or cat. One of the main differences is that pets have to be under general anesthesia to have their teeth cleaned.  Once plaque settles onto a tooth, it hardens into tartar/calculus.  The tartar can accumulate above and below the gum line, causing problems for the health of the tooth.  A thorough and safe dental can only be performed for a pet under general anesthesia.  Let’s take a step-by-step look at what happens during this process.

After you drop your dog off at the hospital, the first thing that your veterinarian will do is collect vital signs and perform a thorough physical exam to ensure your pet is healthy enough to go under anesthesia. Our technicians will draw blood from your pet to run an in-house blood panel to check the function of the organs that play a part in anesthesia.  For example, we assess liver and kidney function because these organs are important for metabolizing and excreting anesthetic drugs.             

After your pet has been deemed healthy enough for the procedure, they will be given an injection called a pre-medication to help them relax. This does not put them fully under anesthesia, but makes them sleepy and carefree during the process of preparing for their dental. Before they are fully anesthetized, our technicians place an intravenous catheter into a vein, which is used to give anesthesia drugs and fluids during their dental. This is also a safety measure that allows us to give additional drugs if an emergency were to happen under anesthesia.

Your pet then receives another drug called an induction agent to fully transition to anesthesia. After this, a technician places an endotracheal tube into the dog or cat’s airway, just as a human would have for surgery. Not only does the endotracheal tube allow us to deliver gas anesthetics to your pet, it also protects your pet’s airway from water and debris while their teeth are cleaned.

Another safety measure in place during these procedures is the fact that in addition to our veterinary technician cleaning the teeth, we also have a trained surgical assistant with each patient. The assistant monitor your pet’s vital signs, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and blood pressure, every 5 minutes. This means that a team of an assistant, technician, and veterinarian are all dedicated to your pet and their safety during these procedures.

This is where the actual cleaning process begins. Our Registered Veterinary Technicians have many roles, and one of them is as your pet’s dental hygienist. They perform a full evaluation of the animal’s teeth and gums. They also scale your pet’s teeth above and below the gum line to remove plaque and tartar, and polish the teeth to make them smooth. Our technicians are trained to notice abnormalities while cleaning and alert the veterinarian to any problems they find. Once the teeth have been fully cleaned, the veterinarian will also perform a thorough oral exam.

At this point, your veterinarian will determine if any teeth need to be radiographed or extracted from the mouth. At Fairway Animal Hospital, we are lucky to have a digital radiograph system for dentistry, which means that radiographs are almost instantaneous and your pet does not have to spend a lot of additional time under anesthesia waiting for x-rays. Once the radiographs are taken, our veterinarians review the health of the tooth root and surrounding structures. This can be helpful in the evaluation of teeth that have broken, are loose for one reason or another, or have other issues. Sometimes extractions of the teeth are necessary.

Once all necessary procedures have been performed in the mouth, it is time to wake your pet up! Both our technician and assistant continue to monitor your pet as they wake up from anesthesia. We also use towels, blankets, and warming devices to keep your pet’s temperature stable and keep them comfortable during recovery. Pets are often disoriented when waking from anesthesia, so we ask that your pet stay with us most of the day so they can stay quiet in a cage while recovering.                 

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your pet undergoing anesthesia or having a dental cleaning, please reach out to us!

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