By Dr. Perry Stanfield
Properly cleaned teeth are SO important for your pet’s health and longevity. Anesthesia free dental cleanings have been a topic of debate for some time and deserve a discussion. The primary attraction for this procedure for most pet owners is based on either their fear of anesthesia for their pets, or the perception that the procedure gets their pet’s teeth cleaned just as well for less cost compared to a traditional professional dental cleaning. What’s the difference?
When we do a professional dental cleaning, we put our patients under general anesthesia. This allows us to perform radiographs when indicated. We can perform a complete examination and probe each tooth for pockets. We clean teeth without any discomfort, and most importantly, we clean below the gum line all the way around each tooth. You cannot do that on an awake or sedated dog! When indicated, we can administer a nerve block similar to “novocain” you would get from your dentist, and we can extract teeth when it is best for a pet. We can polish all tooth surfaces. None of these is possible without anesthesia. Afterward, we focus on home care, which can reduce the need for future cleanings. Anesthesia free dental cleanings are mostly cosmetic, and are part of home care, along with brushing and dental treats. They do not replace a professional cleaning.
“I know it’s probably a good idea, but I hate
the idea of putting my pet under anesthesia”
A professional dental cleaning is an extremely safe procedure. This is because of the drugs available these days are very safe, but also because we screen for disease before we start with bloodwork. A dog with normal bloodwork that has no apparent issues is at no more risk with anesthesia at 15 then it is at 10. In the past 12 years, I have had over 1000 dental cleanings on my schedule. Of those pets, I have lost only two to anesthesia. Both had advanced disease, and were miserable an unable to eat due to dental pain. Both owners understood the risks but felt they had little to lose. Both owners unfortunately had decided years before not to pursue cleanings due to risk. On the positive side, we successfully anesthetize patients with heart, kidney and liver issues; I have anesthetized dogs as old as 20 successfully. We take anesthesia and monitoring very safely and are very good at it.
There are always risks with pet decisions: risk of anesthesia, but also risk of leaving teeth alone and not having anesthesia. We try hard, every day, to minimize those risks, and we are very proud of our safety record doing so. As always, if you have questions about dentistry or anesthesia, please ask.
Have a great spring!