The dangers of Anesthesia-Free Pet Dental Cleanings

Did you know you could be doing more harm than good for your pets mouth by having “anesthesia-free” dental cleanings performed!

More and more pet stores, grooming salons and independent people are offering “anesthesia free dental cleanings for dogs and cats.” At first glance this seems like a marvelous idea! Who doesn’t want to avoid anesthesia for their pets! After all, humans don’t need full anesthesia to get our teeth cleaned, so really, why do our pets? Additionally these services are offered at a fraction of the cost that the veterinarian charges!

Well… let’s dig a little deeper and uncover the facts about “anesthesia free dental cleanings” for pets.

                                                                         anesthesia free cleanings

1. Myth: People offering “anesthesia free dental cleanings” are trained professionals, educated in pet dental health.

a.) Many people that offer “anesthesia free dental cleanings claim to be “pet dental hygienists” or “pet dental technicians.” However, there is no recognized licensing, training or certification to back up these statements. Those titles are simply marketing slogans. Additionally, many human dental hygienists are offering dental cleaning for pets; remember dog and cat dental health is very different from human dental health!
b.) It is best to trust your pets dental health to a trained and licensed veterinary professional; a person that has dedicated their life to the betterment of pet health.

2. Myth: My dog/cats teeth look so clean and his/her breath is much better after having an “anesthesia free dental cleaning”. This is evidence that all the tartar and disease is gone.

a.) The most important issue with “anesthesia free dental cleaning” is the quality of the dental cleaning. The tartar that ‘anesthesia-free’ procedures attempt to remove is above the gum line. It completely misses the tartar below the gum line. This is the tartar that is causing severe damage. Even if all the tartar is removed from the visible part of the tooth, the tooth is not any healthier! The tartar below the gum line is damaging the root. This will cause pain and infection, which can lead to many other systemic illnesses.
b.) Remember, just because your pets teeth look cleaner after they have an “anesthesia free dental cleaning”, the real damage is below the gum line and not readily visible. The only way to address the tartar under the gum line is to perform dental scaling under anesthesia.

3. Myth: Isn’t some cleaning better than none at all?

a.) NO! The teeth can visually look clean but this gives a false sense of security because the dental disease is silently progressing below the gum line, causing pain and infection. It is also possible for teeth to be damaged by a pet who struggles with a dental scaler in their mouth. Additionally, tartar will accumulate at an increased rate due to micro-abrasions left from scaling the teeth but not following with a thorough polishing.

4. Myth: My pet is very well behaved and will allow anyone to open his/her mouth; this makes him/her a great candidate for “anesthesia free dental cleaning”.

a.) It is impossible to perform a thorough and accurate dental examination and cleaning on a patient that is not anesthetized. Unlike humans, dogs and cats do not sit still with their mouth open when asked. This is even true for dogs/cats with excellent, calm temperaments. Without anesthesia it is impossible to fully assess the extent of dental disease and impossible to address/correct the dental disease.

5. Myth: Anesthesia is very dangerous, it is safer for my pet to have an “anesthesia free dental cleaning.”

a.) Many people prefer the idea of “anesthesia free dentistry” because they are afraid of the risks associated with anesthesia. It is important to remember that veterinary anesthesia protocols and drugs are considered very safe, allowing very elderly and very young patients to be anesthetized safely. The dental tartar that is left untreated after an “anesthesia free dental cleaning” is far more dangerous to your pets overall health and comfort.

After reviewing the facts it becomes evident that “anesthesia free dental cleaning” for pets provides the advantage of being cheap. However, this false sense of security will cost you more money in the long run. Dental disease below the gum line will progress, causing pain, infection and systemic illness. Many patients that have frequent “anesthesia free dental cleanings” end up requiring dental (tooth) extractions due to infection under the gum line.

As a veterinary hospital, we are committed to patient health and safety. The advantages provided by the use of general anesthesia are clear:

– improved patient safety,
– better experience for the patient,
– ability to perform a meticulous oral examination,
– ability to take dental radiographs,
– ability to perform dental extractions, if indicated, and
– ability to clean the tooth above and below the gum line, ensuring complete oral health.

In summary, all pet dental procedures should be performed using general anesthesia and by a licensed veterinarian.


The Veterinarians and staff of The Interior Pet Health Group

(Fairfield Animal Hospital, Westbank Animal Hospital & Central Valley Vet Hospital)


A Step-By-Step Dental Cleaning

What happens when your pet visits us for a dental cleaning?

Meet “Rosie”

Dr. Watt performed a full physical examination the morning of Rosie’s dental procedure. Dr. Watt listened to her heart, lungs & checked her temperature.

dental 1The animal health technician, Justine, drew a blood sample and ran an in-house preanesthetic panel, which checked her kidneys, liver, blood cell count & electrolytes.

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Rosie was placed on intravenous fluids to keep her blood pressure in the normal range, hydrate her and help flush the anesthesia out of her system.

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Rosie is getting sleepy from her medication…

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She was intubated with a endotracheal tube to be maintained on general anesthesia during the entire procedure.

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Rosie was placed on an anesthesia monitoring system that measures her heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and oxygenation levels.

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Dr. Watt performed a full oral exam, assessing and probing each tooth. She found abnormalities when probing Rosie’s carnasial tooth.

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**The carnasial tooth looked totally normal to the naked eye**

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The plaque and tartar was removed below the gum line and on the surface of the teeth via an ultrasonic and hand scaler.

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Dr Watt then performed a second oral exam to identify any teeth needing radiology and extraction. The radiographs show integrity of the tooth and its root.

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A local anesthesia (nerve block) was injected into the nerves surrounding the carnasial tooth.

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Dr. Watt performed a gingival flap (making 2 incisions in the gum and pulling the gum back to expose the root and the bone).  Dr. Watt probed the tooth and found a 6mm pocket. This confirmed the tooth needed to be removed.

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The technician then polished all of the teeth. Polishing post scaling helps seal any microscopic ridges that may have been exposed when the tartar was removed.

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Rosie was then moved into recovery and taken off anesthesia. She is carefully monitored by her technician post dental and is kept on intravenous fluids to help flush the remainder of the sedation out of her system. She is kept in hospital until she is alert and able to walk on her own.