We are frequently asked about anesthesia-free pet dental cleanings, which have grown in popularity in recent years. This is the practice of performing a dental cleaning on a pet, which involves scaling (cleaning and scraping) the pet’s teeth to the gumline, without the use of general anesthesia.
The popularity of anesthesia-free dentals is mostly due to marketing campaigns that promote the anesthesia-free method as a less expensive alternative to a dental cleaning that is performed while the pet is under general anesthesia. Unfortunately, it is also based on misinformation regarding what is really involved in cleaning a pet’s teeth. Marketers for anesthesia-free dental cleanings also fail to mention that these dentals often make a pet’s oral problems worse and, in many cases, involve abuse and cruelty.
For pet owners seeking to minimize the number of times a pet has to be “put under” with general anesthesia, the anesthesia-free idea may seem like a great option, but the procedure is wrought with many risks and problems that, in our opinion, outweigh any perception of benefit.
Dental Cleanings For Pets Are Different Than Humans
In humans, because we brush and floss our teeth on a daily basis, our once or twice a year dental cleaning usually involves a basic scaling of teeth above the gumline, where the plaque is scraped off of the surface, followed by polishing the teeth’s surface. For most of us, this is a 30 minute office procedure that requires no sedation or anesthesia.
For pets, because they usually don’t have their teeth brushed daily or flossed, by the time plaque appears on the teeth and along the gumline, it’s a sign that there could be other problems going on below the gumline that aren’t visible, yet, require attention.
Over 60 percent of oral problems in pets are hidden below the gumline. This includes bacterial build up and inflammation of the gums, as well as bone loss, gum tissue loss, weakened root sockets, and cavities. Not only are these painful for the pet, if ignored, they will result in tooth loss and bacterial spread to the heart, lungs, and kidneys, causing further health issues.
To fully understand the health of a pet’s mouth, it is necessary to take oral x-rays, which can only be done properly while the pet is under general anesthesia.
The Importance Of Pet Dental Care
Most dogs and cats show signs of dental disease by the time they reach 3 years of age. Untreated dental disease can lead to a host of systemic problems for a pet, not to mention significant pain, discomfort while eating, inability to chew, infection, and loss of teeth.
Proper, professional dental examinations and cleanings under anesthesia are essential in order to provide a pet with a complete and thorough treatment — a 12-step process that includes:
- Professional dental scaling of each tooth to remove tartar both above and below the gum line
- Polishing of tooth surfaces to minimize new tartar buildup
- Complete oral examination, including, looking for inflammation, sores or lumps
- Dental X-rays that provide a clear view of the health of gums, roots and jaw bone
Anesthesia-Free Dentals Don’t Deliver
The goal of a professional veterinary dental cleaning is to thoroughly remove tartar and plaque from the teeth, both above and below the gum line, while addressing the entirety of a pet’s oral health. Without the use of anesthesia, these goals become impossible to achieve for the following reasons:
- Most people who offer anesthesia-free pet dental services are not trained, licensed professionals. In the worst cases, these procedures are done by amateurs in the back room of a retail outlet.
- A dental examination and cleaning is a highly stressful event for a pet. Most are not able, nor willing, to keep their mouths open for any dental treatment without having to be forcefully (often cruelly) restrained. Imagine yourself in this situation.
- Sharp instruments are a necessary part of a dental cleaning, and pets that aren’t under general anesthesia are likely to be injured during the process.
- Only plaque and tartar that is visible above the surface of the gums can be addressed during an anesthesia-free cleaning. Because most dental disease exists below the gum line, it will undoubtedly be missed and remain untreated.
- Dental X-rays cannot be properly or safely performed on a pet without the use of general anesthesia.
The Root Of The Matter
The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have all issued official statements regarding the need for anesthesia in order to conduct complete and effective dental treatments on pets.
According to the AVDC, the advantages of pet dental scaling under anesthesia with intubation include:
- Elimination of fear, stress and anxiety in the pet
- Elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure
- Protection of the airway and lungs from accidental aspiration (breathing in debris from the cleaning process that can cause blockages/infection)
In closing, our own veterinarians, as well as veterinary dental specialists have seen, firsthand, the results of only anesthesia-free dentals throughout the life of a pet. It is a common occurrence for teeth that look perfectly fine upon visual inspection above the gum line, to be found to be infected or rotten below the gum line when viewed using dental X-rays, necessitating that the teeth be removed.
In the most dire situations, it is not unusual for a pet to end up losing most or all of its teeth because deterioration or disease below the gum line has gone undetected for too long, and the teeth are no longer viable.
At Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, we couldn’t agree more that the use of anesthesia during pet dental procedures is absolutely essential. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s oral health.