Pet Dental Cleaning Without an Anesthetic – Good idea or bad?


Dental tartar is an unavoidable fact of life for us, as well as our pets. There will come a time in in every pet’s life that tartar will accumulate on the teeth and need to be removed by a veterinarian. Cooperative humans can have their teeth cleaned without an anesthetic, although the less brave may need to bolster their resolve with a bit of sedative. But it’s difficult to convince a dog or cat to sit still long enough for the doctor to perform a thorough dental exam and cleaning.

Proper scaling
For maximum benefit, tartar must be scaled from the tooth below as well as above the gum line. The tartar you can’t see can be more detrimental to the pet’s oral health than what you can see. The area below the gum line is where dental disease is most likely to get started and where proper scaling is critical. Ignoring this part of cleaning can result in gum disease, dental abscesses and lost teeth, especially in cats and small breed dogs.

Tartar is very tightly adhered to the surfaces of the teeth. During the process of scaling, microscopic scratches occur on the enamel. Because of this, scaling should always be followed by polishing. If not polished to a smooth surface, these scratches provide a surface for rapid re-accumulation of tartar.

Benefits of scaling under an anesthetic 

  • Molars (located in the rear of the mouth) can easily be accessed for complete cleaning.
  • All surfaces of all teeth can readily be examined.
  • Gingival probing can be done for the presence of pockets and disease along the gum line.
  • X-Rays can be taken to check for retained teeth, dental cysts, abscesses and root disease.
  • A complete oral exam can be done to identify tumors and other types of oral disease.

Downside of Non-Anesthetic Scaling (NAS)

  • The instruments required for scaling are sharp. Minor, quick movements by an awake pet can result in gum lacerations and other oral injuries.
  • The skill of non-veterinary, lay personnel can be an issue. You don’t want anyone messing around in your pet’s mouth who doesn’t have a full understanding of dental anatomy, oral disease, proper instrument use, etc.
  • The procedure is incomplete because scaling below the gum line isn’t done, X-Rays can’t be taken, rear teeth are not readily accessible and the mouth can’t be completely examined. The signs of dental disease can be very subtle and easily missed in a non-anesthetized patient.
  • For many pets, NAS ends up being more of a cosmetic procedure that does not address the important aspects of oral disease prevention. It gives a false sense of dental health.

Anesthetic Safety
As you can see, to effectively clean your pet’s teeth, the procedure must be done under an anesthetic. Modern anesthetics used for veterinary procedures have a wide margin of safety, especially when combined with state of the art monitoring and support. For example, all of our patients that are under an anesthetic are connected to digital monitors that measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rate and run an electrocardiogram. We also place an intravenous catheter and infuse fluids during the procedure to maintain proper blood flow to the liver, kidneys, brain and other vital organs. In addition, pre-anesthetic blood work makes us aware of any sub-clinical health problems that might exist before we actually begin an anesthetic procedure.  While these extra measures can add some cost to the dental prophylaxis, it allows us to provide the highest level of safety for our patients.

Dental Care at Home
Brushing your pet’s teeth is the most effective way of removing plaque and preventing tartar formation. There are special brushes and toothpastes (liver, fish flavors) made especially for dogs and cats. Dental gels and oral rinses can be used that act as anti-plaque antiseptics. Special types of diets are available that help remove plaque are good choices for some pets. You can also give your pet certain types of toys, rawhide and treats to help maintain good oral health.   For more info, go to:    Home Care for Dogs by the AVDC

February is National Pet Dental Month.  Please give us a call or send an email if you have more questions about your pet’s oral health care or if you would like to set up an appointment for a professional dental exam and cleaning.

More Information:
AAHA standards: Anesthesia and intubation for dental procedures
American Veterinary Dental College
Veterinary Oral Health Council


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