the dangers of no-anesthesia dental care for pets

Young calico kitten
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Feb 23 2012

Updated February 18, 2019

With 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of two showing some form of periodontal disease, it should come as no surprise that dental cleanings are among the most-recommended procedures by veterinarians.

As a vet myself, it frustrates me that so many owners are wary to oblige these requests. As we talked about it previous blogs, pet dental health has such a big impact on their overall health, not to mention how much more pleasant it is to receive doggy kisses from a healthy mouth!

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Why do pets need anesthesia for dental care?

I think the thing that gives pet parents the most pause about dentals is the anesthesia. Because many of the dogs and cats most in need of dental cleanings are older, owners are understandably concerned about the potential for anesthetic complications during a dental. Additionally, dentals are expensive, and a lot of that cost can be attributed to the cost of the anesthetic.

Some people take advantage of these fears and concerns by offering “anesthesia-free dentals.” This sounds like the perfect solution, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not – for many reasons.

The risks of anesthesia-free dental care

As a refresher of what we previously discussed about routine professional dental procedures under anesthesia, after a thorough exam (which may include X-rays), your vet or trained technician will use an ultrasonic cleaner to remove tartar from the teeth and then carefully polish every surface of the tooth, creating a smooth surface less likely to collect tartar-causing plaque.

To contrast, people who perform “anesthesia-free dentals” often use sharp tools to remove tartar, and in the process, the tooth’s enamel may be damaged. The resultant micro-pitting actually retains more plaque than a polished tooth, therefore causing increased tartar accumulation and the need for more frequent dentals.

More importantly, during “anesthesia-free dentals,” only the parts of the teeth that are visible are cleaned, and bacteria that accumulates under the gum line is ignored. You already know that it is the bacteria under the gum line that contributes to periodontal disease and causes weakening of the periodontal ligament, leading to loose teeth. To ignore this area is to completely ignore the major cause of dental disease.

It frustrates me that people try to take advantage of pet owners’ fears by offering these services, but even more concerning is the blatant lack of concern for the pet’s health. More than once I have seen weak teeth broken during “dentals” performed in grooming salons and elsewhere, and have even had to treat a dog with a broken jaw sustained during an “anesthesia-free dental.”

If your veterinarian recommends a dental, voice your concerns so that your veterinarian gets a chance to address them. Your pet’s health is our very first and only concern.

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