Pet Teeth Cleaning Without Anesthesia: Is It Effective?

Since February is Pet Dental Month, I thought it would be a good time to address the question of pet dental cleaning without anesthesia.  Why do veterinarians insist on anesthetizing the pet for this procedure when there are lay people who will do it without and charge much less?  Let me answer this question by explaining what happens with each approach.

In a “dental” without anesthesia, calculus above the gum line is removed from the exposed tooth.  The exposed top of the tooth is called the crown.  After the calculus is gone, the teeth are brushed and/or rinsed and the procedure is finished. 

A “dental” with anesthesia starts with diagnostic tests.  The crown and neck of each tooth are examined and the root is probed to identify periodontal pockets that harbor infection.  Over time, the infection in these pockets destroys the periodontal ligament that holds the tooth in the jaw leading to tooth loss.  Next, dental x-rays are taken to identify problems below the gum line.  With the diagnostics complete, the actual cleaning begins with removing calculus from the crowns, cleaning and treating the periodontal pockets to promote reattachment of the gingiva and treatment of any problems identified in the roots of the teeth.  Lastly, the crowns are polished to remove rough surfaces that trap bacteria and the entire mouth is rinsed with an antiseptic.  

Veterinarians use anesthesia in order to diagnose, treat and clean the entire mouth, not just the crowns of the teeth.  If only the crowns are scraped, tooth problems will develop causing the pet much pain and suffering.  I have seen many pets who received dental without anesthesia whose crowns looked beautiful but the teeth were in bad shape.  Their gums were bright red and the teeth were loose.  When I pressed on the gum, pus oozed out.  I felt so bad telling the owners that the money they spent on years of dentals without anesthesia was a waste.  Now most of the teeth were beyond repair and needed extraction to make the pet comfortable.  As a veterinarian, I hate putting animals through extractions that could have been avoided with proper care. 
Just as with people, pet dental care is vital to overall health.  Please take advantage of Pet Dental Month and have your pets examined for oral health.       



Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.