6 Reasons Why We Do Not Do Anesthesia-free Dental Cleanings

January 29, 2020 at 4:17 PM by Nikki Wardle

Veterinary anesthesia machine

Our veterinarians are frequently asked during regular visits about if we can do anesthesia-free dental cleanings.  Dr. Bingham state that he alone gets that question weekly. It's a question that loving pet owners think about a lot. The answer is: while some clinics do, we do not. We're going to go over the reasons why.

1: Cleaning under your pet's gum line

The number one reason why we don't do anesthesia-free dental cleanings is that we can't clean all the way up underneath the gum line where tartar and plaque are. This favorite hiding spot is where the real issue of dental disease begins.  If we clean the teeth without anesthesia, you can remove the tartar from the tooth itself, but the tartar and the plaque that's up underneath the gum line remains.

2: Promoting a fear-free experience

When we (meaning humans) get our teeth cleaned, there's always a little bit of discomfort. Our dentist can explain why this discomfort is happening, but that is where pets are at a disadvantage.   When we start to clean up underneath the gum line, almost all dogs most cats won't allow that to happen because it hurts. We don't want to scare our patients during their dental cleaning. Pets won't want us to ever clean their teeth because it hurts, and they don't know why.

3: Unable to polish the pet teeth

Another reason why we don't do anesthesia-free cleaning is that when you clean the teeth without anesthesia, you scale them, which leaves little grooves in the enamel. If left unpolished, these grooves allow more plaque and tartar to stick to the tooth. The last thing we want is to do a dental cleaning, make the teeth look pretty, but in essence, create a pathway for more problems in the future.

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4: Your pet's airway will be unprotected

We can't protect your pet’s airway when we're cleaning the teeth if they are awake. During the cleaning process, a lot of bacteria are liberated into the air, and dogs are inhaling that, taking it down into their lungs. Without an endotracheal tube to protect the airway we're creating risk of pneumonia or bronchitis. To avoid this increased risk of infection, general anesthesia, including intubation, is needed for the cleaning process.

5: Getting good dental x-rays

Another really important reason why we don't do anesthesia free dentals is that you can't take dental x-rays without anesthesia. If the dog is awake and bites down on the dental x-ray sensor, it's expensive to fix, and we can't get good high-quality dental x-rays. Every patient who receives a dental need diagnostic x-rays since 40% of dental disease is not visible without an x-ray.

6: We are AAHA accredited

The last reason we don’t do anesthesia free dental cleanings is that we would lose our accreditation as an AAHA hospital. The American Animal Hospital Association sets standards to which we have to follow in order to have this certification. One of those standards is to not do anesthesia-free dental cleanings for all the reasons we covered above. If we were to do anesthesia-free dental cleanings, we would not be a certified AAHA Hospital, which is very important to us.

As you can see, there's many reasons why we do it don't do any anesthesia-free cleanings on pets. In Summary, the benefit of doing a pet's dental cleaning while under anesthesia has to outweigh the benefit of doing it without anesthesia.  We can do a much better job cleaning, teeth are healthier, and there's no pain. Your pet always wakes up comfortably and, any dental issues can be identified and addressed right then and there. 

Promoting good dental health is very important to everyone here at IPH. Please feel free to reach out to any of our veterinarians with any questions or schedule your pet's next dental exam and appointment today.

Topics: Pet Dental Health, Dog Dental Health

Nikki Wardle

Written by Nikki Wardle

Nikki has been writing for Intermountain Pet Hospital since 2014.