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Dental Scaling For Dogs: Your Guide To Veterinary Teeth Cleaning

Dental Scaling For Dogs Your Guide To Veterinary Teeth Cleaning

Dental scaling for dogs is a standard part of routine dog dental care. Naturally, it is vital to ensure good oral health at home with regular brushing and mouthwash for dogs that keep their teeth in tip-top shape. Nevertheless, dog teeth scaling is still necessary to prevent dental disease. So let’s take a look at what you can expect from a visit to your vet.

What is Dental Scaling for Dogs?

Dental scaling is the process of plaque and calculus (tartar) from your dog’s teeth. Plaque and tartar build-up is the ideal environment for harmful bacteria that produce acids and toxins that damage the tissue around the teeth. This causes gingivitis, and if it is left untreated, it becomes periodontitis.

Periodontal disease is very serious and leads to multiple health complications that can shorten your dog’s lifespan and affect their quality of life. You can read more about the stages of periodontal disease here.

Your vet will use an ultrasonic dental scaler to remove the visible plaque above the gum line and then use hand scalers and other tools to scrape away the plaque below the gums. This is the most dangerous place for plaque, as this is where the disease starts.

The vet will also clean out any periodontal pockets where bits of food and bacteria may hide and finish with a good polishing. This polish makes it harder for plaque to adhere to the surface of the teeth in the future. If your dog does have periodontitis, they may apply antimicrobial rinses and prescribe antibiotics or other medication.

During the procedure, your vet will also note any abnormalities in the mouth.

What happens when you take your dog for a dental cleaning?

When you take your dog to get their teeth cleaned, the vet will first conduct a complete oral exam to determine if they need an appointment for scaling. Remember, we never want to put a dog under anesthetic unnecessarily. Since the procedure takes time, you will likely need to make an appointment.

If it looks like there is some plaque that needs to be removed to keep the teeth healthy, the vet will do some bloodwork to check if it’s safe to use anesthesia. They may also check your dog’s abdomen and heart. If everything looks good, your vet will go ahead and anesthetize your dog so that they can take X-rays of the mouth.

The X-rays will show any abnormalities, such as cavities or a loss of bone density, that could indicate disease. It can also help your vet diagnose the stage of any possible periodontal problems. At this point, the vet may need to discuss any possible additional treatment your dog may need. This could include extracting teeth or even root canals in some cases.

How often does a dog need professional dental cleaning and scaling?

When it comes to dog teeth cleaning, how often is the key question. In general, your pet’s teeth should be cleaned about once a year. However, some breeds and older dogs may need to have it done every six months.

Smaller dogs often have overcrowded mouths and are far more prone to dental issues. Likewise, short-nosed breeds such as Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, and Pugs are particularly prone to tooth problems. Dogs with diabetes or advanced periodontitis will also need more regular oral care. In these cases, you may need to take your dog for a check-up and possibly a cleaning twice a year.

Are dental cleanings worth it for dogs?

Full scaling is not only worth it, but it is absolutely essential for your dog’s health and well-being. Taking care of your dog’s dental hygiene at home by brushing, chew toys, and doggy mouthwashes go a long way toward preventing infection and disease. Still, they do not clean under the gums.

The plaque beneath the gum is the most dangerous, as it causes gum inflammation and then gradually rots away at the vital ligaments and bones that hold the teeth in place. This is the part you cannot clean yourself and that you need your vet to do. You can see this article if you would like to learn more about how to properly clean your dog’s mouth at home. If you have a young dog, be sure to check out our article on proper oral care for puppies

If an infection starts under the gum line, it weakens the jaw bone enough to cause fractures and cause abscesses. The toxins from the harmful bacteria enter the bloodstream. With the constant low-grade inflammation in the body, your dog can develop several severe problems, including cancer, heart disease, and kidney failure.

Is teeth cleaning painful for dogs?

Your vet will put your dog under anesthetic for oral cleanings, so the procedure will not be painful. They may be a little sensitive afterward, but this should be barely noticeable. However, suppose your dog has an infection or had a tooth extraction. In that case, they may need medication to help ease the discomfort.

Can there be complications from dog dental scaling?

Before your dog is placed under general anesthesia, your vet should conduct blood tests to check their kidney and liver function, as anesthesia always runs the risk of organ failure. However, this is extremely rare and should be ruled out in the pre-examination.

Another aspect to enquire about is the whether the vet will use a cooled ultrasonic scaler or a heated teeth scaler. Heated teeth scalers can damage the pulp in the teeth and are not a good option.

Can I clean the plaque off my dog’s teeth myself?

It is not safe to try to clean under your dog’s gum your self or use any kind of human dental tool. Any sudden movement from your dog could injure their gums, and human dental tools can damage and scratch the enamel. But what about dog dental scalers you can find online? Surely these are a good option for low cost teeth cleaning for dogs?

Unfortunately, scaling your dog’s teeth yourself is not a good idea. Even if your dog is well-behaved and sits still, the scaler scratches tiny grooves into the tooth surface. These grooves are perfect for more harmful bacteria and plaque to take hold and cause a bigger problem. This is why veterinarians will always polish the teeth after scaling, to smooth the surface.

Furthermore, a dog teeth cleaning without anesthesia cannot be thorough or complete, especially if the dog has any kind of infection or pain in their mouth. And without X-rays to peek under the surface, you cannot know if your dog is developing a dental disease that needs professional care.

How much does a professional dog dental scaling cost?

Just a scaling typically costs between $100 and $200. However, since your dog will also need an exam, bloodwork, X-rays, and other work done, the total cost is usually well over $500. If your dog needs extensive dental work or surgery, the cost may rise well above $1000.

For this reason, it is crucial to invest in quality pet insurance to help cover the cost. Do not be tempted to avoid taking your dog for a full cleaning either, as neglecting this aspect of dental hygiene can lead to much more severe health problems and vet bills down the road.

Final Thoughts

It can be tempting to try to buy a dog scaler online, but this is not advisable. Unless you have a dog that needs more regular oral hygiene care it is essential your dog go to a vet for proper scaling and polishing roughly once a year. Maintaining dental health is not just about avoiding yellow teeth and bad breath but also about keeping our dogs strong and healthy for as long as possible.

Dental Scaling For Dogs: Sources

Holmstrom, S. E., Bellows, J., Colmery, B., Conway, M. L., Knutson, K., & Vitoux, J. (2005). AAHA dental care guidelines for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 41(5), 277-283.

Vérez-Fraguela, J. L., Vallés, M. A. V., & Calvo, L. J. E. (2000). Effects of ultrasonic dental scaling on pulp vitality in dogs: an experimental study. Journal of veterinary dentistry, 17(2), 75-79.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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