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Does your pet need to visit the dentist? Here’s how a dog teeth cleaning works

It seems scary but they won't feel or remember a thing

Doctor cleaning dog's teeth with toothbrush indoors
New Africa / Shutterstock

In theory, we all go to the dentist every six months to get our teeth cleaned, which helps keep the pearly whites in check and also contributes to overall health. Surprisingly, our pets also benefit from annual (or biennial) dental treatments. While these cleanings do wonders for your dog’s teeth, they can make owners nervous and burn a hole in their wallets to boot. Here’s why you should schedule regular cleanings for your pup.

How do I know if my dog’s teeth need cleaning?

Unless it’s a really severe case, you probably can’t tell just by looking. Instead, your vet will take a peek in your animal’s mouth during their yearly checkup. Your pet’s doctor may give your furry friend a dental grade between 0 and 4, with 0 being reserved for puppies that have perfect teeth and 4 meaning Fido will likely require more advanced care, including extractions. Once you have the assessment, you can better determine if your pup needs a cleaning, but it’s frequently recommended.

What happens during a dental cleaning

Some of that depends on the grade and your specific beast, but the gist of it stays the same. The main thing is not to worry too much because your little guy will be well cared for, and even though there’s always some risk to anesthesia, this is a routine procedure.

Getting your pup ready

Before you even begin, you should get pre-op blood work done to make sure they can handle being under anesthesia. Have your vet discuss any outside-of-range findings and figure out the best way forward. Some older dogs develop kidney and liver problems, and your dog doc might decide that a cleaning isn’t worth the risk.

Prepping for the cleaning

Your little guy will likely fast leading up to treatment (just as you would if you were going in for surgery). When you arrive, your vet will go over the schedule and almost certainly give them a once-over to confirm they’re ready. Then they will get a sedative in preparation to go under. Figure out what time you need to pick them up and then try to distract yourself for a few hours.

During the procedure

Most vets will take X-rays, clean the teeth, and perform extractions as necessary. Don’t worry — your pet will be fully asleep and will not remember or feel a thing. If they do need any teeth pulled, they might get additional shots during the visit (again, just as you would get Novocaine while getting your mouth done). Your vet may also take this opportunity to clip their nails (since they are asleep), if necessary.

Aftercare

If your dog had to have any work above a cleaning, you’ll have a couple of meds to administer, such as pain medication and antibiotics. Follow the dosage carefully, especially if you’re dealing with strong meds like codeine. In some circumstances, they may have to wear the cone of shame to prevent scratching at their mouth.

How else can you help your dog’s oral hygiene?

There’s a lot you can do as the pet parent in between cleanings. Consider brushing their teeth, giving doggie dental chews, putting an additive in their water, or putting them on prescription food if the issues are really severe.

The most important thing is to stay on top of your furry friend’s oral health, just like you would with any other issues. That often means not feeding them human food, which can cause decay, and providing dry dog food or even dog bones to chew. As long as you stick with the routine, hopefully, you won’t need too much extra detail care.

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Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
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