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Risks of “Anesthesia Free” Dental Care for your Pet

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

Nonprofessional dental scaling (NPDS), also known as anesthesia-free dentistry, is gaining popularity with an increasing number of dog and cat owners. These are concerned pet owners that are worried about the safety of anesthesia or may not be able to afford professional veterinary dental care. They want to provide care for their pet and this seems like a reasonable alternative..

If removing the calculus and tartar from the crowns of the teeth was the essential activity of dentistry, perhaps in some cases anesthesia-free dentistry might make sense. This procedure addresses only the parts of your pet’s teeth you can see. Is the outcome of less calculus on the surfaces of the teeth the greatest benefit from dental care? NO!  The greatest benefit to proper dental care is the attention paid to the area beneath the gum  line.  This is where disease can advance, undetected and compromise the health of the mouth, the teeth, the heart valves and the kidneys.

Read the AmericanVeterinaryDental  College’s (AVDC) position statement on dental scaling without anesthesia.

Why Anesthesia is Used for Dental Procedures

The fact is, a truly thorough oral exam and cleaning can’t be accomplished on a pet that is awake. Anesthesia has several benefits when it comes to caring for your pet’s mouth, including:

  1. Immobilizing your dog or cat to insure his safety and cooperation during a procedure he doesn’t understand and is stressed about.

  2. Allows for a thorough exam of all the surfaces inside the mouth and the taking of x-rays.

  3. Allows for scaling below the gum line where periodontal disease is most active.

  4. Permits us to employ the best techniques of pain management.

A fully conscious dog or cat  won’t tolerate a thorough inspection of his mouth. He’ll move around and resist restraint. This makes the use of sharp instruments extra dangerous. Cleaning below the gum line of a fully alert animal is something that should never be attempted. Pets won’t stand for it because not only does the procedure cause tremendous stress, it’s also painful. And if tooth extractions are necessary, they are out of the question for un-anesthetized pets.

How Anesthesia-Free Dental Procedures Might Do More Harm than Good

Non-professional dental scaling can potentially give pet owners a false sense of security about the state of their dog’s or cat’s oral health. Even though your pet’s teeth – what you can see of them – may look clean and fresh after an anesthesia-free dental procedure, what you can’t see is actually more important. Problems like tartar buildup below the gum line and gingivitis aren’t addressed during a procedure that only scrapes and polishes the teeth. Most oral disease happens below the visible surfaces of your dog’s or cat’s mouth.

NPDS is purely an aesthetic procedure that doesn’t deal with gum problems or other risks to your pet’s overall health that can develop from disease that starts in the mouth. It doesn’t allow for probing of the gums to look for the presence of deepening periodontal pockets or bone destruction resulting from gum disease.

When a pet has not had proper dental care over the span of many years, generally there are multiple teeth that have become infected and require extraction.

Occasionally there are cats or dogs that have a large chunk of calculus clinging to one of the upper teeth that lends itself to mechanical removal without anesthesia. If the pet allows for us to do this safely, great. But don’t be confused by this as constituting dental care. The issues outlined above have not been addressed.

When Putting Your Pet ‘Under’ is a Concern

We share your concern. The safe use of anesthesia is one of the most important procedures we ever perform on a pet. It is not something we address casually, even though we do this many times every day.

What can be done to enhance the safety and provide the best outcome for anesthesia?

1. Information gathered before the anesthetic is given. This includes a thorough physical exam, pre-dental lab work and a review of the notes from previous anesthetic and dental procedures.

2. Best practice anesthetic practices. We use the most advanced anesthetic protocols, frequently employing multiple agents in small dose to enhance pain management and reduce negative effects of individual drugs. All pets have an intravenous catheter placed at the beginning of the procedure to provide IV fluids during the procedure (to protect the kidneys from any damage from changes in blood pressure).

3. Efficient dental care (to minimize the total time under anesthesia). Our doctors and staff have undergone training and Oasis Animal Hospital has invested in the best equipment for monitoring anesthesia, taking dental radiographs, keeping patients warm and providing a safe, quick recovery from anesthesia.

Please be assured that we take every possible precaution to assure that every pet has a safe and comfortable recovery from anesthesia.

Summary: We know that you love your pet and expect us to provide the best advise and best services possible. If there was a safe and effective way to clean teeth and provide proper care on pets that are awake, we would do so. Those who claim that this alternative is “better” or “safer” than the dental care we provide are wrong. We understand that the costs of dental care have risen dramatically over the past 10-20 years. But at the same time, the level of care has improved even more dramatically.

Click link below for a video on the risks of “anesthesia-free” dental care


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