Your vet has advised that your pet needs their teeth cleaned – or as we call it a ‘dental’. Because cats and dogs don’t brush their teeth twice daily like we do, tartar (plaque) builds up on the teeth over the course of several years and often this is accompanied by gum recession, infection and cavities. Some pets will keep eating even with severe tartar build up and gum infection, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t in constant pain – they are just used to putting up with it on a daily basis.
Your vet will be happy to provide an estimated cost for the dental procedure, however please be aware we can’t be 100% accurate with estimates. We can’t always tell how badly affected the teeth are until your pet is under anaesthetic and the tartar has been removed from their teeth – this can uncover tooth fractures and cavities. Some pets will require more extractions than originally expected from the initial consultation.
As you can imagine cats and dogs don’t tend to sit still while we poke around their mouths with dental equipment! They can’t understand what we are doing (unlike when you visit your dentist) and if they already have a painful tooth, then the whole procedure is quite stressful for them (and us)! Thus the easiest way for the vet to carry out a dental procedure on your pet is under a general anaesthetic. This means that they will be anaesthetised or ‘asleep’ during the procedure and won’t know what we are doing or feel any pain.
Your vet may recommend a blood test before the anaesthetic, usually carried out on the morning of the dental. We take a sample of blood either from the neck or leg vein (so you may notice an area on their body where fur has been shaved for this test) – and then we run the tests on our laboratory machines at the clinic. This allows us to make sure that their red and white blood cell count, kidney and liver function, and blood glucose (sugar) and protein levels are normal before the dental. If any problems are identified, your vet will call you to discuss the findings.
(1.) The first step is giving your pet a thorough check over, if they are found to be healthy, we then give them a ‘premedication injection’ about 20-30minutes before the procedure. This is a combination of pain relief and sedatives that will make them a bit drowsy. Some pets will also require a drip (intravenous fluids) to be set up at this point - before they have an anaesthetic - your vet will recommend this if needed.
(2.) About 30-60minutes after the premedication injection they will be ready for the rest of the anaesthetic to be given, Step 2 involves giving an anaesthetic injection into the vein on the front leg– this is usually a short acting anaesthetic that makes them sleepy enough for us to put an ET (endo-tracheal) tube into the trachea (windpipe) – this will then allow us to carry out Step 3 as detailed below.
(3.) Next we attach the ET tube to the gaseous Isofluorane anaesthetic machine. This machine will keep them under anaesthetic during the dental procedure and the ET tube prevents water (from the dental ultrasonic scaler and drill) going into the lungs. While your pet is under anaesthetic they have a dedicated anaesthetic nurse monitoring them at all times while the vet carries out the dental procedure. They are also kept nice and warm on a heat pad to maintain a normal body temperature.
(1.) During the dental your vet will start by removing the tartar from your pet’s teeth. Depending on how much tartar is present this step can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour – it involves ‘cracking’ off the large pieces of tartar with a special instrument, then using a machine called an ultrasonic scaler (similar to what your dentist would use) to clean all the smaller pieces of tartar off the teeth.
(2.) Once they are clean, the teeth are then assessed for cavities and fractures. If a tooth is badly damaged/decayed or broken, then it is usually removed or extracted. A pre-extraction local anaesthetic nerve block injection is given – so that your pet’s gum around the extraction site will remain ‘numb’ and pain-free for hours after they wake up from the anaesthetic, and from this point their long-acting pain relief medication will be working to keep them comfortable when they go home. Extractions can be difficult to carry out, as some teeth have very long roots or 2-3 roots per tooth and it may involve cutting the tooth into sections and drilling away some of the surrounding bone of the jaw to extract the affected tooth. On average it may take your vet 10-20 minutes per tooth for removal.
After this your pet may require stitches in their gums once the tooth has been removed, the stitches are dissolvable after about 2-3 weeks.
(3.) Once your vet is satisfied that the teeth are clean and there are no more teeth that require removal – the teeth are polished with a special dental polisher and prophy paste. This smoothes out any tiny abrasions on the enamel of the teeth and makes it more difficult for tartar to stick to the teeth in the future.
(4.) Once this is complete, your pet is then allowed to wake up from the anaesthetic and the ET tube is removed when they are awake enough to swallow. Your pet will be given more pain relief medication and antibiotics if required (usually only necessary if extractions were carried out). We keep them in the recovery ward for several hours for close monitoring before they are transferred back to the separate cat or dog wards prior to going home.
• Your pet will probably be drowsy when they get home, so need to be kept inside and nice and warm the night you bring them home. They may not be back to their ‘normal self’ for a few days following the anaesthetic.
• It is a good idea to feed your pet soft food for up to a week after the dental, as their gums will be tender, especially if they have had any teeth removed.
• They may need to go home with antibiotics +/- pain relief medication - the vet nurse will go through this with you before they go home. We have liquid and paste options for medication which are easy to administer, so please let us know if you think your pet will be difficult to give tablets to prior to the dental.
• If they have had any teeth extracted it is a good idea to come back with them a week after the dental to see your vet for a recheck. (Post-dental rechecks are at no charge, unless further medication is required).