When I used to feed Latte raw meaty bones, her teeth were sparkly clean. But when I got lazy, her tartar began to accumulate and before I knew it, the tartar on one of her top back teeth was pushing her gums up. As Latte is turning seven soon, I thought it's time to send her for dental scaling.
Now, I have to emphasise that if you want to get your pet's teeth professionally cleaned, go to a trusted vet for it to be done under General Anesthesia (GA). I do not recommend dental scaling without GA, also known as Non-Professional Dental Scaling (NPDS), an increasingly popular service commonly offered by pet grooming salons. We let Latte try it once before when she was young and when we were inexperienced parents. Never again!
Why you should never choose NPDS
There are three main reasons for this - 1) It's impossible to do a proper job when your dog is awake (sometimes leading to more harm than good), 2) it gives a false sense of security that your dog's oral health is good (when it may not be - see photo below), and 3) you put your dog at risk of trauma or injury when force is used to keep them from struggling.
I know of a dog who broke his jaw bone while being held down for dental scaling without GA. He can no longer close his mouth. Unless your pet is perfectly comfortable having someone do things to their teeth, do not even think about it!
Without sedating the pet, the vet will not be able to fully assess their oral condition. It will also be also impossible to scale below the gum line, where periodontal disease often goes undetected. See an example here.
But isn't it risky to put our pets under GA?
That's a valid concern that I also had before sending Latte for her dental scaling. I was worried that her body might respond negatively to GA and she might even die from it.
There are risks involved with the use of anesthesia but dental scaling is generally considered as a simple procedure that usually lasts for less than 90 minutes. Scaling Latte's teeth took less than 30 minutes.
According to Dr. Huang Zhixiong of The Visiting Vets, "a previous study done on 3,546 animals undergoing GA showed a 0.12% death rate in healthy animals and 4.77% in sick animals. Many factors, such as the pet's health status and the duration of GA have to be considered."
Pets at higher risk include
flat-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds
sick or old pets
A 0.12% death rate is far from negligible. That's why it's important to go to a reputable and experienced vet who will do a physical examination and pre-anesthetic blood test to determine whether your pet is suitable for the procedure and provide them with the best care.
Of course, prevention is key. Brush your pet's teeth daily and/or feed them raw meaty bones to maintain good oral health!
Latte waiting for her procedure to start
Why go through so much trouble?
Your pet's oral health affects their overall health. As the mouth is full of blood vessels, oral bacteria can get into the bloodstream, exposing your pet to infection. Tartar buildup will lead to tooth decay, inflamed or receding gums, and bad breath. If severe, your pet may experience pain and difficulty eating.
Once tartar is formed, it will be difficult to remove even if you start brushing your pet's teeth or giving them raw meaty bones. The best way is to send them for professional dental scaling.
Who did we choose for Latte's dental scaling?
We decided to go to Dr. Huang at The Visiting Vets because we know Jane, their vet technician and acupuncturist at that time. Plus, a few of the dogs we know did their dental scaling there too.
Latte's before and after dental scaling comparison
What actually happens during dental scaling?
"For basic dental scaling, patients are first put under anesthesia and put on intravenous fluids to maintain their blood pressure. A proper oral exam is then done to check for tartar formation, gingivitis, oral tumours, and any teeth that may require extraction," shares Dr. Huang.
"Any tartar on the teeth and below the gum line is then scaled off with an ultrasonic dental scaler. The teeth surface is then polished and smoothened out with dental prophylactic paste. Dental scaling usually lasts for 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the severity of the dental issues and whether extractions are required."
He added that "teeth that require surgical gum flaps and sectioning by pneumatic drill and the presence of tooth root abscesses will increase the difficulty and duration of the procedure."
Latte after the procedure. she was groggy for the next few hours.
How would I know whether my pet needs dental scaling under GA?
Dr. Huang says that "prophylactic dental scaling where cleaning is done before any permanent damage to the teeth has occurred is always preferred over waiting until it's too late."
He recommends having a vet examine your pet's teeth at least once a year. Also, if you observe the following symptoms in your pet, it's likely that permanent damage to the teeth has already occurred and may require extractions. Do bring your pet to the vet for assessment.
Bad breath and/or smelly saliva
Blood from the mouth
How much does dental scaling cost?
We paid S$350 for it. Latte's procedure was straight-forward as she only had some tartar buildup and she's considered a small dog (< 7.5kg). It would cost more for longer or more complex procedures and/or larger dogs.
What dental products should I use to maintain my day-to-day dog's oral health?
You can visit our store for our curated range of dental products that do not contain harmful ingredients.
Featured image by Helena Lopes. Photos of Latte are taken by The Visiting Vets.