Vet Stuff with Dr. Steph

Dental Cleaning without Anesthesia – Too Good To Be True? YES!!!!

By February 22, 2023 No Comments

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is! That is definitely the case with nonanesthetic dental cleanings. You may have seen these procedures advertised at pet stores and online. I am going to tell you why you must avoid them.


Companies or individuals that offer these procedures are required by law to disclose that there is absolutely no health benefit to these procedures. Let me repeat that. There is absolutely NO HEALTH BENEFIT to your pet. They may only, by law, remove visible calculus above the gumline.
Proper diagnosis of dental disease can only be achieved under anesthesia. This diagnosis requires probing the gums and radiographing the teeth using expensive equipment inside the pet’s mouth. A vast majority of dental disease cannot be diagnosed by visualization alone.
Cleaning below the gumline cannot be properly performed without general anesthesia due to pain and access. Buildup of bacteria, calculus, plaque and debris BELOW the gumline is what leads to deep pockets that trap more food and bacteria. This leads to loss of the periodontal ligament that is holding the tooth into bone, and loss of bone around the tooth. This process is the main source of dental pain and infection. The teeth may look pretty when they leave their appointment but they are not leaving with a healthy mouth. This would be the equivalent of going through a car wash when your check engine light is on.


You only have to go as far as the internet to see severe dental disease in the “before and after” photos of dogs that have had nonanesthetic dental cleanings. We have seen multiple examples of this in our hospital. There are dogs with broken teeth that have pulp and nerve exposure, dogs with severe gingival and bone recession and dogs with severe periodontal disease. I have even seen pictures of cats with painful resorptive lesions that have received these cleanings.
Nonanesthetic dental cleanings lead to a false sense that the pet’s dental disease has been treated, a false appearance of healthy teeth to the pet owner and thus a DELAY in the pet getting proper treatment for dental disease.
In my experience, pet owners believe that they are doing what is best for their pets and have no idea that the cleaning is causing pain and stress and is doing their pet a disservice. The teeth will continue to be a source of pain and infection until properly diagnosed and treated by a veterinary health care professional.


When you look at the advertisements for nonanesthetic dental cleanings, you will see pictures of pets sitting happily to have their teeth scaled. However, the reality is that the vast majority of pets are not comfortable with this procedure. The pet is usually restrained by being wrapped in a blanket or towel and sat up on their hind end or on their back so they cannot struggle or move.
Often this heavy restraint leads to the pet assuming a “freeze” response out of fear or they develop learned helplessness. Which means they have given up and accepted their fate but are no less terrified. In some cases, a toothbrush or similar object is placed crosswise in the pet’s mouth as a gag so that they cannot bite and so that they keep their mouth open. This can easily be mistaken for compliance or relaxation to the untrained eye.
Many of the pets undergoing this procedure are seniors with arthritis or joint disease this restraint can cause pain, especially if prolonged.
In most cases, the animals are taken away from their owners while undergoing this stressful procedure. Owners are relying on second hand reports of how their animal tolerated the procedure.
This experience can lead to worsening of the pet’s fear and anxiety around being handled or having their mouth touched. They may develop unwanted evasive and sometimes even aggressive behaviour around handling their mouth due to this fear.
If you are a client at Gateway Pet Hospital, you might be familiar with “Fear Free” techniques as many of our staff members have gone through training to become Certified Fear Free Professionals. We strive towards respectful handling and restraint, in addition to doing everything in our power to ensure the pet does not feel anxiety or pain throughout their procedure. Our hearts break when we think what these pets have been submitted to for a procedure that is arguably worse than useless.


Sharp dental instruments can cause trauma to your pet’s sensitive gums. We cannot explain to a pet that they are required to sit still for this procedure. Damage to gums due to inadvertent sudden movements can cause significant injury and pain.
During nonanesthetic dental cleanings, the pet’s airway is not protected. This creates a higher risk that the pet will aspirate bacteria laden fluid or tartar into their lungs.
Many pets undergoing nonanesthetic dental cleanings have painful dental disease such as tooth mobility, fractured teeth, gingivitis and periodontal disease. Think of how painful a dental cleaning can be to a human with vastly less severe gingivitis. We brush our teeth several times a day and have them scaled by a dentist twice yearly. Scaling these teeth without anesthesia, dental blocks (freezing) and pain control is inhumane, which is why subgingival scaling cannot be done in an awake animal.


Most pet owners think they are doing something good for their pet! Many pet owners have not been properly informed about the risks and truths about nonanesthetic dental cleanings and are unaware that there is no health benefit.
Pet owners might not realize their pet has dental disease. Pets often do not show signs of chronic dental pain and will continue to eat and act relatively normally despite severe disease. Often the changes, such as reduced playing with toys, decreased energy, or slower eating are gradual and subtle and pet owners may attribute them to aging.
Pet owners often have concerns about the perceived risk of their pet undergoing anesthesia, which is completely understandable. However, it is extremely important to talk to your veterinarian so they can inform you about the actual level of risk. It is also important to understand that periodontal disease and dental disease can be a chronic source of pain and infection in your pet that can drastically affect their quality of life.
May pet owners feel that the cost of dental treatments under general anesthesia is too high. However, the money spent on non-anesthetic dental cleanings is money spent providing no health benefit to your pet. The cost of a non-anesthetic dental scaling is actually, in most cases, higher than the cost of the actual cleaning during the dental treatment provided by your veterinarian under anesthesia. However, unlike at your veterinary clinic, they provide no subgingival cleaning, minimal cleaning of the inside of the teeth, no ultrasonic scaling and no polishing. The added costs of the veterinary dental procedure are for services that are necessary to make the diagnosis and treatment complete, safe and pain free for your pet. Even if you cannot bring them to a veterinarian, don’t waste your money on a nonanesthetic dental.


There is no substitute for the evaluation of your pet’s mouth under general anesthesia. A Registered Veterinary Technician and a Veterinarian will chart, radiograph, probe and examine the pet’s mouth carefully to identify sources of pain and infection so they can be properly treated. Your pet will get a proper subgingival cleaning that will slow the progression of dental disease.
General anesthesia carries a low risk of complication in most pets, even senior and geriatric dogs. At Gateway Pet Hospital, we take every precaution with general anesthesia that you would expect for humans. We screen the pet for underlying disease in advance and tailor anesthetic protocols specifically for that pet’s breed, age and medical conditions. We have highly trained staff and advanced monitoring equipment and warming equipment and a high staff to pet ratio. We limit our dental procedures to one per day to ensure we have the necessary time it takes to do the job properly. An extensive dental procedure on a pet could take our team several hours from start to finish if treatments and extractions are needed.


The bottom line here is that you cannot cut corners when it comes to the treatment of dental disease in your pet. Do not waste your money on nonansethetic dental disease if your goal is to improve your pet’s quality of life.

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