During our dental awareness months (January and February), all our dental procedures are 20% off. It is important to understand all that goes into a thorough dental cleaning and exam on our furry companions, which contribute to the overall cost. First and foremost, dogs and cats require general anesthesia for a full dental probing and cleaning. All our patients have an IV catheter for their dental, to allow intravenous medications and fluids during their procedure. They are put on anesthetic gas to maintain unconsciousness throughout their cleaning. Throughout the dental, they are continually monitored by a technician for temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, heart rhythm, respiratory rate, and the amount of circulating oxygen in their bloodstream. All of these parameters are kept within a safe range to allow a smooth and easy procedure and healthy recovery.
A dental cleaning itself is a rather extensive process. Oral disease begins with the normal mouth bacteria mixing with food and saliva. The food/bacteria/saliva combination leads to plaque, which accumulates on the teeth, starting most usually the back molars, as they are the main chewing teeth. Given enough time, the bacterial numbers in the plaque increase and calcium salts are deposited on the teeth surfaces, leading to tartar. A technician begins by “scaling” the teeth, which is removing all the built-up plaque and tartar that have accumulated. Depending on the amount of tartar, this is a variable period of time. We use an ultrasonic scaler, which allows for a continuous flow of water over the tooth during the scaling. This water flow prevents the heat in the machine from damaging the tooth surface, as well as flushes bacteria and debris away from the teeth and gums.
After the technician has finished cleaning the teeth, the doctor then does a full dental examination and probing, similar to what happens when you go to the dentist. An instrument, graded in millimeters, is used to examine the integrity of the tooth and to explore for any gingival pockets that can’t be seen by the naked eye. In a dog’s mouth, the examination probe should be anywhere from 1-3mm under the gumline; anything more than that can be indicative of periodontal disease. In a cat, a normal probe depth should only be 0.5-1mm. If pockets are found, it is an indication for a dental radiograph to determine the health of the root of the tooth underlying the gumline.
The final step of the dental procedure (not including extractions or any other necessary medical treatment) is the polishing of the teeth. The polishing helps the gingiva seal tightly around the tooth, and removes any superficial scratches in the enamel. This is the most important step in helping to prevent future dental disease.