Myths and tales of dental scaling

In the second installment on dental care for pets, we answer many common questions, myths and fears regarding professional veterinary dental scaling.

My dog gets chew toys, treats and bones* regularly. Does my pet still require dental scaling?

While chew toys and treats can help reduce the rate of dental tartar formation, they do not PREVENT it. Dental scaling for your dog or cat is equivalent to your regular visits to the dentist, when your pet’s teeth are thoroughly cleaned with a ultrasonic scaler to remove calculus and invisible plaque/tartar, as well as to assess teeth for signs of decay. Decayed teeth can be then extracted as well so that they do not cause further pain and infection.

*We strongly advise against feeding bones to your dog, especially bones which can be swallowed as they can cause life threatening obstructions or damage to your dog’s stomach/intestines.

I don’t need general anaesthesia when I visit my dentist. Can the same apply to my pet’s dental scaling?
One of the main differences with dental scaling in pets and humans is that general anaesthesia is required for pets. This is so that the veterinarian can fully assess and clean all teeth in the mouth, bearing in mind that scaling of teeth also involves the inner surfaces (facing the tongue) and beneath the gumline of each tooth. This cannot be accomplished in an awake animal.

Extractions can also be difficult procedures as animals often have teeth with many long roots, some of which can be 2-3 times as long as the crown of the tooth (the visible part of the tooth), thus general anaesthesia allows extractions be carried out in a thorough, safe and pain-free manner.

Please see the following link for the Singapore Veterinary Association’s position statement on “Veterinary Dentistry by Non-Veterinarians and Veterinary Dentistry without Anaesthesia”:

I’m afraid my pet will not wake up from the general anaesthesia. Is it safe?
Understandably, pet owners might be nervous when they think about their pet undergoing anaesthesia, worrying that their pet might not wake up from it.

Anaesthesia will never be 100% safe. Certain factors such as allergic/adverse reactions to drugs cannot be eliminated. However, anaesthesia has come a long way in both veterinary and human medicine, and there are many factors which can be controlled to allow for successful general anaesthesia. There are a wide variety of drugs available today so that the ideal combination can be chosen to best suit your pet based on its age, temperament, pre-existing medical conditions and type of procedure to be carried out. Dental scaling (without extractions) only requires light anaesthesia as it is not a surgical procedure. Thousands of anaesthesias are performed on pets in Singapore yearly with safe outcomes.

During anaesthesia, your pet is also provided with oxygen delivered to the lungs via a tube in the airway. This ensures that all the vital organs have sufficient oxygen to function well under anaesthesia, and the tube in the airway also secures the airway and prevents water, saliva and calculus removed from the teeth from being aspirated into the airway. This keeps your pet safe and prevents pneumonia (lung infection) from inhaling foreign material which can be life-threatening.

How is my pet monitored during dental scaling?
Anaesthesia monitoring is of utmost importance in ensuring that your pet stays safe during anaesthesia. The following steps ensure the optimal safety of any pet undergoing anaesthesia:

  • Monitoring of vital signs such as heart rate, ECG, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, respiratory rate and temperature throughout the entire anaesthesia by a trained veterinary staff. If an animal is in impending danger during anaesthesia, there will usually be early changes in these vital signs, allowing the veterinary team to act immediately to reverse these signs and thus maintaining the safety of your pet. It is when these signs are ignored or not monitored that general anaesthesia can lead to dangerous outcomes.
  • An intravenous (IV) drip is administered during anaesthesia to maintain and control your pet’s blood pressure, electrolyte levels and hydration at normal levels.

How often does my pet need a dental scaling?
The frequency of dental scaling depends on the rate of tartar build up. This in turn depends on how well you practise daily dental hygiene for your pet. This is best achieved through daily brushing. Chew toys, dental treats, water additives can also complement brushing to slow down the build-up of dental tartar. Allow your veterinarian to assess your pet’s teeth regularly and advise you when the next dental scaling is required.

Safe steps to fresh breath
In summary, these are the following steps to a safe and successful dental scaling for your pet:

  • A thorough consultation and physical examination with your veterinarian to assess the overall health condition of your pet.
  • Pre-anaesthetic blood work (especially for pets 7 years or older) to assess the function of organs such as the liver and kidneys which will be clearing the anaesthetic drugs given from the body. Other diagnostic tests may also be recommended based on any abnormalities found on the physical examination performed.
  • Intravenous (IV) catheter placement to allow administration of an IV drip and to allow IV access in case of emergencies.
  • An anaesthetic plan formulated specifically for your pet.
  • Thorough anaesthesia monitoring using the right equipment and monitored by a trained veterinary staff.
  • A tube in the airway to provide oxygen, anaesthetic gas and to protect the airway from foreign objects (e.g. cracked dental calculus).

Are we providing the best for our furry loved ones by foregoing necessary dental care over perceived anaesthetic risks?
None of us want our teeth covered with dental tartar and calculus. It is painful and unpleasant. We should ask for no less for our pets’ teeth. With all the right steps taken, dental scaling is a very safe procedure. The risks of general anaesthesia carried out in a thorough manner is minimal, but the risks of dental disease causing significant health problems to your pet are almost 100% guaranteed over your pet’s lifetime, including bacteria from the mouth leading to infections of the heart, kidneys and liver via the bloodstream.

Do see our previous blog entry on the importance of dental health in pets.

If you have further questions with regards to your pet’s dental health, we will be happy to address your concerns via email or phone.