Anesthetic-free or Sedated Dental Cleaning

The simple truth to the answer is no, because there is no such thing that is of benefit to your pet!  If anyone ever tells you they can clean your pets teeth without full anesthesia, then you should turn around and walk (if not run) somewhere else.  It is impossible to properly clean and treat (read our 12 step dental process) your pets teeth and subgingiva (the space under the gums where most of the disease is) without being under anesthesia. 

Here is a great video that summarizes the information below – we couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

Performing a dental cleaning on a unanesthetized pet is inappropriate for the following reasons according the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), and I firmly believe this too:

  1. Dental tartar is firmly adhered to the surface of the teeth. Scaling to remove tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic and sonic power scalers, plus hand instruments that must have a sharp working edge to be used effectively. Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to the oral tissues of the patient, and the operator may be bitten when the patient reacts.P
  2. Professional dental scaling includes scaling the surfaces of the teeth both above and below the gingival margin (gum line) AND on all sides, followed by dental polishing. The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket  and the subgingival space(the area underneath the gums), where periodontal disease (infection under the gums that causes gum and/or bone loss) is active.
    • Because the patient cooperates, dental scaling of human teeth performed by a professional trained in the procedures can be completed successfully without anesthesia. However, access to the subgingival area of every tooth is impossible in a unanesthetized canine or feline patient. Removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth (below the gumline) has little effect on a pet’s health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.
  3. Inhalation anesthesia using a cuffed endotracheal tube (tube that has balloon at the end) provides three important advantages… the cooperation of the patient with a procedure it does not understand, elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure, and protection of the airway and lungs from accidental aspiration (via the ballon at the end of the tube).
    • When cleaning the teeth there is a large amount of water and bacteria (tartar and plaque are basically large accumulations of bacteria) floating around in the mouth.   If the pet is under full anesthesia then the airway is protected from this infectious concoction, by the tube, thus preventing problems.  Without the tube it is much easier for the bacteria filled water or aerosolized bacteria to get into the lungs and cause pneumonia (bacterial infection in the lungs).
  4. A complete oral examination and radiographs of the entire mouth, which is an important part of a professional dental scaling procedure, is not possible in a unanesthetized patient. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue cannot be examined or cleaned, and areas of disease and discomfort are likely to be missed.

Similarly, if they are not polishing the teeth (which most awake dogs will not tolerate) immediately after wards this will actually cause more tartar to return faster than previously.  After cleaning the tooth the enamel has a very rough surface that makes it very easy for bacteria and plaque/tartar to adhere to it.  Polishing turns the rough porous surface into a nice smooth glass like surface that makes it more difficult for the bacteria and plaque/tartar to adhere to the tooth.

Sedation Only Dental Cleaning (medical sedation but not full anesthesia):

It is possible to clean and treat your pets mouth with medical sedation but with sedation your pets airway will not be protected like it is under anesthesia.  Plus sedation decreases your pets ability to protect its own airway by swallowing thus actually increasing the risk of pneumonia.    When full anesthesia is used there is a tube with a small ballon present at the end to make an air-tight seal.    This seal prevents any liquids or aerisolized particals from going down into the lungs and thus potentially causing pneumonia.    Sedation also does not block the pain and discomfort that can be associated with proper cleaning underneath the gums.  Nor does sedation 100% prevent the pet from moving during these uncomfortable procedures and thus potentially getting injured by the sharp instruments.

Dental Cleaning under full anesthesia:

Owners of pets naturally are concerned when anesthesia is required for their pet.  However, this is the only way to provide complete cleaning and treatment of dental disease in our canine and feline pets.  Although anesthesia will never be 100% risk-free, modern anesthetics (including intravenous fluids and rapidly acting and rapidly metabolized anesthetic drugs) and patient evaluation techniques (ECG, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, temperature, heart rate, etc) used in advanced veterinary hospitals minimize the risks just like in human medicine.  Millions of dental scaling procedures are safely performed each year in veterinary hospitals.

Minimize the need for professional dental cleaning procedures:

Want to avoid anesthesia for your pet as much as possible?   Of course you do, and we want you to minimize the amount of times your pet needs anesthesia too!  You can easily decrease the frequency of professional dental cleanings AND teeth extractions by providing dental care at home each and every day starting at a young age (around 6 months).  This should include brushing your pets teeth every single day!

If you are unable to brush each day then there are other options but they will all be less effective and more expensive in the long run such as mouth rinses (Ex. CET AquaDent, CET Oral Hygiene Rinse), dental diets (Ex. Science Diet Healthy Advantage or T/D prescription food) and chew materials (Ex. CET Hextra Chews or Greenies).   This, combined with periodic examination of the patient by a veterinarian and with dental scaling under anesthesia when indicated, will optimize life-long oral health for dogs and cats.

For general information on performance of dental procedures on veterinary patients, please read the AVDC Position Statement on Veterinary Dental Healthcare Providers, which is available on the AVDC website.  For information on effective oral hygiene products for dogs and cats, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council web site.