What Happens When My Pet Goes to the Vet for a Dental?

By the age of 3 years, about 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some degree of periodontal disease.  But bad breath and unclean teeth are among the least of your worries when it comes to a pet with untreated periodontal issues!  The consequences of periodontitis (inflammation or infection of the gums and supporting structures of the teeth) can include intense pain that prevents your pet from eating; bacteria spreading from the mouth to the blood stream and vital organs; and deterioration of your pet’s jawbone, leading to fractures, dental abscesses and tooth loss.  A professional dental performed at Bellevue Animal Hospital is more than just a “teeth cleaning.” When your pet comes in for a dental, the veterinarian and veterinary technician will perform a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment (COHAT.)

Before your pet’s dental appointment:

Taking a good look at your pet’s mouth – including the gums, teeth, and tongue – is part of a thorough medical history and physical examination. A physical exam performed by one of our veterinarians is required no more than four months prior to any non-emergency procedure involving anesthesia; we will also require proof of a current Rabies vaccination. Depending on the cat’s or dog’s age, history, and physical examination results, our veterinarians may recommend the following prior to a dental cleaning procedure:

  • a pre-anesthetic blood chemistry profile to check kidney and liver function
  • a PCV (tests for anemia) and complete blood count
  • a heartworm blood test (for dogs)
  • urine tests
  • additional lab-work based on your pet’s health and other test results

Using this information as a guideline, we select the most appropriate anesthetic protocol for your animal’s medical needs.

On the day of your pet’s dental appointment:

You will need to arrive at our hospital between 7:45 and 8:00 a.m.  One of our Client Services Representatives will have you sign admission and authorization forms at the front desk. You and your pet will then be taken to one of our exam rooms, where the veterinarian will do a brief pre-hospitalization examination and discuss the plan for the morning. (You should expect to be here for about 15 minutes with your pet.) We will require a phone number where we can reach you during your pet’s entire hospital stay, so that we can contact you quickly if we discover any unexpected dental conditions.


Shortly following admission, your pet will be given a pre-anesthetic sedative. When we are ready to begin your pet’s procedure, an IV (intravenous) catheter will be placed in one of its front legs to deliver an IV anesthetic.  One of our veterinary technicians will then place an endotracheal tube down the animal’s windpipe, to deliver gas anesthesia and oxygen during the procedure.  We also recommend IV fluids to be administered to your pet during the procedure. The IV fluids help maintain your pet’s hydration, blood pressure, and major organ function while it is under anesthetic.  Any additional drugs that your pet may need while it is in the hospital can also be administered via the IV catheter.  (You can read more about the importance of IV fluids in our blog post “Why Should My Pet Receive IV Fluids During Surgery?”)

  • You may have heard about “anesthesia-free dentals” but this type of dentistry is not recommended by AAHA, the American Veterinary Dental College, or by our practice. Anesthesia allows your pet to sleep comfortably and without pain throughout the procedure; allows our medical team to work safely on your pet; allows the veterinarian and technician to complete a thorough oral examination of your pet’s entire mouth, teeth, and gums; and protects your pet’s airway from bacteria and oral debris while cleaning the teeth.

Cleaning and Polishing:

All surfaces above and below your pet’s gum line are cleaned and polished by one of our licensed veterinary technicians.  An ultrasonic scaler is used to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth and along the gum line; this power scaling is followed by hand scaling with a curette, to remove any tartar below the gums.  The teeth are polished next, in order to smooth out any microscopic etches that have been left from scaling.  Plaque adheres more easily to an etched surface, so the polishing helps to protect your pet’s teeth and maintain that dazzling smile!  We use a polish that contains fluoride, and it is especially made for dogs and cats. (Some of the ingredients found in tooth polish for humans are not appropriate for pets.) Finally, an air water syringe is used to rinse the polish off of the teeth. Depending on the amount of debris on the animal’s teeth, a complete cleaning and polishing will take about 45 to 60 minutes.

Sealing the deal:

At the completion of the cleaning and polishing, a clear barrier sealant called OraVet® will be applied. OraVet® binds electrostatically to tooth enamel, creating an invisible barrier that helps prevent plaque-forming bacteria from attaching to the teeth. This decreases the accumulation of tartar on the tooth surface and therefore minimizes periodontal disease and odor. The sealant will last about 2 weeks. We recommend that you follow up at home with once-weekly treatments of OraVet® Plaque Prevention Gel; the gel contains the same patented polymer as OraVet® barrier sealant, but in a less concentrated gel formulation. You do not have to brush your pet’s teeth first in order to use the gel.  The product is odorless and tasteless, as well as quick and easy to apply to the outer surface of the teeth: it takes less than 60 seconds!  Your pet’s regular food and chew treats will not interfere with the effectiveness of the gel; however, you should not allow your dog to chew on tennis balls, because those can strip the gel from the surface of the teeth.

The gold standard of home care to maintain your pet’s oral health includes both daily tooth-brushing with a toothpaste made just for dogs and cats, and a weekly application of OraVet® Plaque Prevention Gel.

Checking for Problems:

All of the teeth are probed to look for pockets into the gum line, which indicates more serious disease. The technician will evaluate each tooth, looking for any evidence of fractures, nerve exposure, or decay.  If there is evidence of any of these abnormalities, digital dental x-rays will be recommended to determine the health of the teeth’s structure below the gums. The technician will take the x-rays, which will then be reviewed by the veterinarian. If any abnormalities or diseased teeth are confirmed, the veterinarian will contact you to discuss recommended treatment or tooth extractions. If any teeth need to be pulled, the veterinarian will perform the extractions. Depending on which teeth (and how many) are affected, this can take a few minutes or more than an hour, and some extractions may require the use of a dental drill.

Ready to go home:

When you arrive in the afternoon to pick up your cat or dog, one of our veterinary technicians will meet with you to discuss your pet’s procedure and any medications that we may be sending home with you (such as antibiotics or pain relief medications,) review with you the veterinarian’s findings and discharge instructions, and discuss any home care recommendations for the pet. This may include daily teeth-brushing, the use of OraVet® or other veterinary dental home care products, diet changes, or recommended treats.  Brushing your pet’s teeth is easier than it might sound! While not all dogs or cats will accept a full mouth cleaning, you can start by just concentrating on the canine teeth – that’s where tartar accumulates the fastest, so if you can keep those clean, you’re doing a great job. Click this link to download a handout about How to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth and don’t hesitate to call us with any questions you may have!

If you’d like to schedule an appointment to have your pet’s dental health checked, please call our office at 402-291-1255, or send an email to bellevueanimal@gmail.com. We look forward to helping your pet live its best life!

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