What is a Dentistry?

Many people wonder what is involved when our pets get their teeth cleaned. It is much different than in people, as pets do have to be under an anesthetic to do a proper job of cleaning their teeth. To help solve a bit of the mystery of what happens during a dental cleaning for your pet, we will show you step by step:

Pre-surgical Exam and Bloodwork:

Just like any procedure when a pet is undergoing surgery, a full physical exam is performed on your pet to ensure there are no concerns with the heart, lungs and rest of the body prior to anesthesia.

Bloodwork is typically required in our patients, prior to a dental cleaning. This is to ensure that the internal organs (liver, kidneys, etc.) are functioning well to handle an anesthetic.

IV (Intravenous) Catheter Placement:

This ensures that we can give medication through IV access, and ensures we have access to a vein for any emergency.

Induction Anesthetic and Intubation:

Medication is given through the IV catheter to have your pet fall asleep (this medication is short-acting, having them sleep for about 1-5 minutes). After sleeping, an ET tube (endotracheal tube) is placed to secure their airway. This tube is attached to a line with gives oxygen, and gas anesthetic (to keep the pet asleep for the remainder of the procedure).

Monitoring and IV Fluids

For the entire dental procedure, a registered veterinary technician is monitoring your pet. This monitoring includes check vitals (including heart rate, pulse quality, breathing rate, and blood pressure) to ensure that the anesthesia continues to be safe. All pets receiving dentistry have IV fluids given through their IV catheter, as a way to maintain hydration and blood pressure.

Dental Cleaning

This is performed by our registered veterinary technicians. They remove the tartar off of the teeth using hand scaling and ultrasonic scaling. They curette under the gum lines to remove any calculus that is hidden in the pockets between the gums and the teeth. The technicians then polish the teeth to smooth all surfaces.


Charting Teeth

Each tooth in the mouth is probed to assess for any mobility, deep pockets of gum tissue around the tooth, cavities and any other abnormalities. The rest of the mouth (tongue, cheeks, palate) are also checked for any abnormalities.

Dental Radiographs (X-rays):

Our pets can have a large amount of hidden disease under the gum lines, so dental x-rays are used for detecting these hidden problems. They are used prior to extraction of any teeth and greatly improve the quality of the dentistry.

These dental x-rays found hidden abscesses around the roots of the lower teeth. The red circles show a darker grey area around the tooth root- which indicates disease. These teeth looked perfectly normal on the visible surface- so disease was only found through using x-rays.


If any teeth in the mouth look extremely diseased or mobile, they are at high chance of causing pain and possible infection to the mouth. In most cases, extraction is the best solution, to ensure that painful and diseased teeth are eliminated from the mouth.

Extractions in our pets can be very involved. A gum flap needs to be lifted to expose the tooth roots. The tooth needs to be sectioned if it has more than one root, and it takes a fine art of breaking down the ligament around the tooth to ensure the full root is removed. To show you what can be involved in an extraction, please feel free to view this video, which shows extraction of an upper premolar (one of the largest teeth in the mouth): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U84apgQqmoI

Since extractions are a complex procedure, it is important that the veterinarian performing them has received more than adequate training- including lectures and hands-on laboratories to receive the correct technique for extractions.

Care after the Dentistry:

After all of the investment into making the mouth clean and pain-free, it is important to ensure that we keep up with home dental care to keep those teeth pearly white!

Brushing is the best home dental care option available. Please see our Blog from January to see a video on tooth brushing tips.

Dental diets can also be helpful to clean the teeth and freshen breath. Water additives and dental chews can also be used to minimize gingivitis and keep breath smelling clean and fresh!

Written by Dr. Christina Parker