What is an Anesthesia Free Dental Cleaning?

You might have heard about anesthesia free dental cleanings from a local groomer, pet store or even word of mouth. Commonly known as anesthesia free dental cleanings, the practice involves a surface scraping of a pet’s teeth without putting the pet under anesthesia.

The veterinary community often refers to the practice as non-anesthesia dentals, as the term “cleaning” is misleading to pet owners who have the impression that after one of these procedures, their pet’s mouth is clean and healthy. It sounds like a great option, but what exactly does this procedure involve?

First, the title of the procedure is accurate in that there is no anesthesia involved. This means your pet must be physically restrained, some at higher levels than others, in order for the provider to access the animal’s teeth. A provider will often tell a pet owner it is just like a human going to the dentist, which is absolutely not the case. While some pets may appear to tolerate this restraint better than others, still the pet is being restrained for a lengthy period of time with no ability to understand why or what is happening to them. Going to the dentist as a human would certainly would be a much more traumatic experience if you were to be restrained.

The next step is removing plaque from the visible part of the tooth, best described as “scraping” or “scaling”.

The discoloration of your pet’s teeth is essentially layers of plaque and bacteria that have built up over time, which is only eliminated from the visible portion of the tooth by scraping it with an instrument.

Consider your visits to the dentist and the minor scraping that sometimes has to be done to remove some of the tiny spots of plaque build-up. Now, take a look at your pet’s teeth and think about how it might feel to have that amount of build-up scraped from your teeth. It certainly could cause a great deal of discomfort and pain to your pet, who is also being restrained in the process.

At the end of the anesthesia free dental procedure, the surface or your pet’s teeth appear visibly whiter. However, there is much more than meets the eye. Because your pet wasn’t under anesthesia, there was no ability to clean beneath the gum-line where the bacteria that causes periodontal disease sits and causes bad breath and extensive damage to tooth roots and bone structure.

White teeth do not mean a clean and healthy mouth. This is the most unfortunate misconception by many loving pet owners, who don’t realize the potential oral health problems that sit beneath their pet’s gums.
The best dental care for your is an annual veterinary dental cleaning under anesthesia. Learn more about veterinary dental cleanings and the benefits for your pet.

Risks of Anesthesia Free Pet Dental Cleanings

“Anesthesia free” probably seems to most like a less risky procedure for a pet. Of course we all love our pets and becoming nervous about the idea of them going under anesthesia. However, when it comes to pet dental health, the risks of periodontal disease and oral health problems due to lack of proper dental care far outweigh the risk of anesthesia.

Consider the following:

  • Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition among adult dogs and cats. Unfortunately, there are often no visible signs periodontal disease until so much damage has been done beneath the gum-line that the pet often has bone loss and loses teeth. Anesthesia free dental procedures have no way of cleaning beneath the gum-line to prevent periodontal disease, nor are they able to look beneath the gum-line to identify problems before they become painful and expensive to treat. Learn more about pet periodontal disease.
  • During an anesthesia free dental, the surface of a pet’s teeth are scraped leaving grooves in the pet’s teeth and a rough surface prime for more bacteria growth.
  • Your pet is very likely uncomfortable and in pain during an anesthesia free dental procedure. A veterinary cleaning allows them to undergo a proper cleaning without any pain or discomfort.
  • Painful conditions can’t be identified during an anesthesia free pet dental procedure. It is impossible to do x-rays and adequately examine all surfaces of a pet’s oral cavity while they are awake. Radiographs and a veterinary oral health evaluation are vital in detecting problems early while they are relatively easy and much less expensive to treat.
  • Anesthesia free dental cleanings give pet owners a false sense of security. Unfortunately, just because their pet’s teeth appear whiter doesn’t mean they are free from oral disease.
  • The cost of an anesthesia free dental procedure is cheaper in the short run. However, pet owners are risking the need for much higher costs to care for severe dental problems that have gone unidentified for a number of years.

What is a Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning

As a pet owner, you have your pet’s best interest at heart and want to make the best choice for their care. When choosing your pet’s dental care, be sure to learn about a comprehensive veterinary dental cleaning and the long term benefits.

What you can expect from a professional veterinary dental cleaning:

A veterinary dental cleaning always begins with an initial oral exam of your dog or cat’s mouth by a veterinarian or a veterinary dentist. This allows the veterinarian not only to get a general idea of your pet’s dental condition, but also offers you the opportunity to ask questions and to get good advice for home care that can benefit your pet.

Your pet has a blood draw and blood chemistry panel to identify any potential problems that the doctor needs to be aware of and to determine if the pet is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia.

Your pet is put under anesthesia. This is what often worries most pet owners, however, under proper protocols anesthesia is very safe. We encourage pet owners to ask their veterinarian about their anesthesia protocol and experience prior to scheduling a procedure. Find questions to ask your veterinarian before anesthesia.

A veterinary dentist and some other veterinary doctors will also use a local anesthetic in your dog or cat’s mouth during procedures. This eliminates the need for so much general anesthesia as well as allowing your pet to recover more quickly and with less pain.

While under anesthesia, a comprehensive veterinary dental cleaning will include the following:

  • A complete oral exam and radiographs (x-rays) to identify any problems beneath the gum-line. (This is similar to the x-rays you might receive at a dental appointment.) Common painful problems that could be identified with radiographs are broken teeth, periodontal disease, dead teeth, abscesses or infected teeth.
  • A full cleaning under the gum-line where periodontal disease lurks. It would be impossible to clean this area on an awake dog, but it is where the most dangerous bacteria sit in your dog or cat’s mouth.
  • A full professional scaling and polishing of the visible part of your dog or cat’s teeth. A veterinary cleaning does require scaling or scraping the tooth to remove plaque and calculus. A scaling is done to remove build-up and then the teeth are polished leaving a completely smooth surface of the tooth preventing a bacteria friendly environment on the tooth.

After your pet recovers, they are able to go home and unless they’ve had an additional procedure, can eat and return to normal. Your veterinarian should give you a full report of findings and any recommendations for home care in between cleanings.

FAQ’s about Pet Dental Cleanings

How often should my pet have a dental cleaning?
Dogs and cats should have a veterinary dental cleaning annually starting at age two, or sooner if they have some other oral health problem identified earlier.

Why does my pet’s breath smell so bad?
Bad breath is a sign oral disease is present in your pet’s mouth, not that their teeth are just dirty. Bad breath is often an indication of periodontal disease which lurks beneath the gums and can eat away at bone and tooth structure. Severe periodontal disease can also affect other organs as the disease progresses.

What is the difference between a pet dental cleaning at my vet or an anesthesia free dental clinic?
A veterinary dental cleaning is important to clean and exam all aspects of your pet’s oral health, including beneath the gum-line where periodontal disease can cause painful and expensive damage. Learn more about a veterinary dental cleaning. An anesthesia free dental cleaning is a non-veterinary professional procedure where a pet is restrained awake, while the visible portion of their teeth are scaled or scraped. This does not clean your pet’s teeth and leaves your pet at risk for future dental disease and problems.

Is anesthesia for dental cleanings safe?
Under proper protocol and at an experienced veterinary hospital, pet anesthesia is very safe. Learn more about safe pet anesthesia and questions you should ask.

Why are veterinary pet dental cleanings more costly than the anesthesia free procedures at my groomer?
Put simply, when it comes to the procedure alone, you get what you pay for. A veterinarian provides a professional service that requires a great deal of training and experience with the pet’s health in mind. There are certainly more costs involved in anesthesia, equipment, x-rays and staff which all amount to your pet getting a higher quality of care and ultimately maintaining a healthy mouth.  Over the long term, extensive dental disease as a result of a pet not having cleanings or having anesthesia free cleanings can become far more expensive. See cases showing pet damage due to lack of proper dental care.

Do cats and dogs need the same type of cleanings?
The key thing to remember is that both cats and dogs need regular veterinary dental care. Overall each need the same components of care, however being that they have unique health care concerns, it’s important they are in the care of a veterinary doctor who is experienced and able to identify specific disease such as feline tooth resorption, feline stomatitis, or oral cancers.