Kitty smiles are important too! How is your cat’s dental health? Veterinarians recommend having your cat’s teeth professionally cleaned once every year after 1 year of age. Regular dental cleanings can help to detect potential medical problems and save you money in the long run!
Title Photo Credit: gianni via Flickr
Before the Dental Cleaning Begins
There are a few steps your veterinarian will want to take before cleaning your cat’s teeth. Your veterinarian will take some time to carefully examine your cat’s mouth while your cat is awake. Depending on your veterinarian’s policies, you may be allowed to be present with your cat during this examination. This first examination is to look for any visible problems and determine the general state of your cat’s oral health.
Next, your veterinarian will discuss any problems that have been discovered with you. This is a great time to ask any questions that you might have about your cat’s oral health or your veterinarian’s procedure for cleaning your cat’s teeth. Consider asking a few of these questions (if you haven’t already):
- If you find a problem during the dental cleaning, what is your policy for handling that problem? Will you ask me before you pull a tooth?
- Will you be performing blood work before placing my cat under anesthesia?
- Who will be monitoring my cat while they are under anesthesia? Are they dedicated to this task? What is their training with veterinary anesthesia? Certifications?
- Will my cat have an IV catheter and fluids during the dental cleaning?
- What devices will be used to monitor my cat while under anesthesia?
- When my cat is back in my care, what things should I watch for? How will I know if everything is okay? How will I know if something is wrong?
Steps for Cleaning a Cat’s Teeth
Each veterinarian will clean a cat’s teeth a little differently. Where in the process dental problems are resolved depends on the problems that are found. However, the American Veterinary Dental College outlines some general steps that they must follow to provide a thorough and safe dental cleaning.
The first step is to run some bloodwork on your cat to make sure that your cat’s organs are all functioning properly. It is important that your veterinarian does this so that they know if your cat can physically handle being placed under anesthesia. If your cat can not be placed under anesthesia safely, your veterinarian will have to re-examine dental care options for your cat with you.
Your cat will be placed safely under anesthesia and monitoring will begin. The cat will be intubated (have air delivered to their lungs through a tube while blocking off access to the stomach). This keeps any bacteria that is scraped off of the teeth from being swallowed. As the dental cleaning proceeds, local anesthetics will be used to reduce the amount of general anesthesia that is needed and speed up your cat’s recovery time.
Many of a cat’s dental problems occur below the gum line. Radiographs and other imaging techniques can allow your veterinarian to get a clearer picture of your cat’s oral health even before beginning the cleaning. These images can help them to see abscesses, dead teeth, periodontal disease, broken teeth and roots, and more.
- Cleaning under the cat’s gum line.
The veterinarian will need to carefully clean under the cat’s gum line to remove harmful bacteria where it starts. If a hole is found in a tooth (cats are prone to getting these around the gum line), the tooth will need to be removed. These can not be filled like cavities in humans because they will continue to grow despite the filling. The holes become painful resorptive lesions where the gums will become inflamed and the whole tooth will eventually dissolve.
- Scaling the cat’s teeth
Scaling is not as scary as it sounds. This procedure is done on humans during dental cleanings as well. A machine is used to remove plaque and tartar that has built up on the cat’s teeth.
- Polishing the cat’s teeth
Also done with a machine, polishing the cat’s teeth leaves the teeth with a smooth surface. This smooth surface helps to discourage new plaque and bacteria buildup.
When the dental cleaning is complete and the problems are resolved, your cat will be removed from anesthesia. At this point, your veterinarian will update you in on what to expect and how to continue with home care.
What You Need to Know About Cats & Anesthesia
Cat owners are often concerned about the need to put their cat under anesthesia for dental cleanings. Due to these concerns, have even been clinics popping up claiming to do dental cleanings for pets without anesthesia. Before you choose to take your cat to one of these clinics, there are a few things you need to know.
Anesthesia-free dental clinics for pets are very controversial. In many states, these practices are not legal. The American Veterinary Dental College takes a firm stance against anesthesia-free dental clinics for pets in their official position statement.
What is the problem? Anesthesia-free dental clinics for pets make promises they can’t deliver. At best, they clean the visible parts of your cat’s teeth, giving you a false sense of your cat’s dental health. This doesn’t address the problems that lurk under the gum line. Veterinarians are also concerned that the bacteria that is scraped off of the teeth will be swallowed and potentially cause infection somewhere else in the cat’s body.
Your veterinarian uses anesthesia when cleaning your cat’s teeth for your cat’s safety. For your cat, having their teeth cleaned is a scary process that they don’t understand. Your cat would wiggle and fight making it impossible to get the delicate cleaning done that needs to be done. The sharp instruments being used could injure your cat or the veterinarian. When used properly, anesthesia helps your cat to get safely through their dental cleaning and onto a speedy recovery.
Have you ever had your cat’s teeth cleaned by a veterinarian?
Sources & Digging Deeper
- What is a Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning? – American Veterinary Dental College
- When Your Vet Advises This Dental Cleaning Procedure, How Should You Answer? – Dr. Karen Becker, DVM
- Companion Animal Dental Scaling Without Anesthesia – American Veterinary Dental College
- Tooth Resorption – A Painfully Common Dental Disease in Cats – Dr. Karen Becker, DVM
- Anesthesia – Veterinary at Cornell University
- The only thing to fear is the fear of anesthesia – AHHA