What Are the Dangers of Cleaning Teeth in Cats?

Cats need their teeth cleaned on a regular basis and the procedure should be done the proper way.
Cats need their teeth cleaned on a regular basis and the procedure should be done the proper way. (Image: cat image by Dwight Davis from Fotolia.com)

Felines typically are more prone to gingivitis than dogs and they require regular trips to the veterinarian to have their teeth cleaned. This is called dental prophylaxis, but may also be referred to as "prophy" or just a dental visit, depending on your veterinarian. Although this procedure is generally regarded to be safe, there are a few risks and complications in cleaning teeth in cats.

Dangers of Non-Sedated Cleaning

A cat must be placed under general anesthesia before a dental prophylaxis is performed. Even if a cat is very mild in temperament, most felines do not appreciate things in their mouths. They may bite or scratch the person cleaning their teeth or the person holding them. Due to the fact that this procedure is very wet and messy, it is best if the animal is thoroughly sedated beforehand. If X-rays are required, the animal must also be sedated to ensure that it remains completely still.

Anesthesia Complications

General anesthetic, although typically quite safe, does have its risks. The most common risks associated with this are miscalculating the dose of anesthetic needed for the animal, or an underlying health issue that causes a reaction when the anesthetic is given. For example, if the cat has an undiagnosed allergy to the anesthetic, it may go into shock. Any animal that is not deemed by a veterinarian to be in sound health should not be placed under general anesthetic unless it is absolutely necessary.

Problems Affecting Surrounding Teeth

Although this issue is rare, occasionally a veterinarian may nick a surrounding tooth when cleaning one. The tools required for proper dental prophylaxis are sharp and very similar to the ones used on humans. If the tool slips, a nearby tooth may be damaged. This is often not apparent until after the cleaning is completed and the animal is taken home. The nicked tooth may become painful or infected. If a cat displays excessive mouth pain after a procedure, you should contact a veterinarian.

Rare Complications

Some rare complications including fracture of the jaw bone, broken tooth roots or sores inside the mouth can occur after cleaning a cat's teeth. Again, it may not be apparent until a few hours or even days after the dental prophylaxis occurs. Animals should be monitored, particularly if the procedure was lengthy, to see if they suffer any ill effects. However, serious are extremely rare and typically only happen if an untrained person is allowed to clean a cat's teeth.

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