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Posted on 03-10-2017

Anesthetic-Free Teeth Cleanings.

 I have had a few clients ask about anesthetic–free teeth cleanings. What is the difference? Do you recommend it? Isn’t it a better and cheaper option? Places that tend to offer the anesthetic-free teeth cleanings are grooming facilities. I once saw a place advertise a teeth cleaning clinic for this service, meaning they brought in a company that have people trained to hand scale your pet’s teeth while they are awake. I saw videos of this task being performed and what they did was lay the pet (most commonly dogs) on their back in between the person’s legs. From there they proceed to hand scale the plaque and tartar off the crowns with a dental scaler. The one video I watched had stated that afterwards they also polish the teeth however, that was not demonstrated on camera so I do not know if they actually did polish the teeth and if they did, how it was done.

 Seems like this would be an easy and simple task right? Although some pets might co-operate the fact is animals are unpredictable, especially when it comes to anything that might cause them discomfort. The hand scalers used are extremely sharp and if your pet moves at the wrong time or with enough force that scaler can cause damage. Furthermore, if not handled correctly the lower jaw can break. There have been court cases in California and British Columbia where dogs have suffered from these fractures.

 Over 75% of our pets over the age of 3 have some form of dental disease. Anesthetic-free teeth cleanings do not treat dental disease they only get rid of the tartar to make it more aesthetically pleasing but the disease still remains. In some cases a tooth or teeth may be missing enamel and the removal of the covering tartar without extracting the bad tooth will make things more painful.  If the teeth are not properly polished after being hand scaled then there are grooves left in the teeth from the scraping and tartar will build up faster. Polishing helps to smooth out these grooves made in the teeth after scaling.

 When dental cleanings (aka dental prophy) are performed by your veterinarian it needs to be done under a general anesthetic. This allows the veterinarian to better assess your pet’s mouth, take x-rays to determine if there is dental disease below the gum line (as only 30% of the tooth is visible) and to decide if extractions are required. The veterinary technologist can then clean your pet’s teeth with an ultrasonic scaler or hand scaler to get rid of the plaque and tartar not only above the gum line, but also below the gum line. After the cleaning the technologist will then polish all the teeth and place a treatment of fluoride on the teeth (used only on dogs). Of course there is always a risk when we place a pet under anesthetic. There are things that we do to help minimize this risk such as; pre-anesthetic blood work to check liver and kidney function and intravenous fluids to help your pet maintain hydration and blood pressure. We also place heart rate and oxygen monitors on your pet and take blood pressure readings every 5-10 mins. Anesthetics are also a lot safer today than they were 20 years ago.

 Although anesthetic-free teeth cleanings may be cheaper than placing your pet under a general anesthetic to have a proper dental cleaning performed there are no other benefits in choosing this route. Let me leave you with this final thought. Would you have your hairdresser clean your teeth or would you prefer a licensed dentist professional?

 For some photographic illustrations check these web sites:



Written By:

Terri Richter, RVT

Edit By:

Dr. Heather Haakstad, DVM

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