Why Anesthesia-Free Dog Dental Cleanings Are A Bad Idea

Written by: Colleen Ferriman, DVM

July 12, 2022

So your dog needs dental cleaning. Maybe their breath is so potent it’s about to raise the dead, or your veterinarian has said it’s time, or you just can’t stand to look at the tartar. No matter what your reasoning, a dental is your priority, but yikes! The pricing is painful and anesthesia is scary. While the cost of a dental cleaning is not easy for many families to come up with, don’t be fooled into thinking anesthesia-free dental cleanings are the way to go. They are not in your dog’s best interest. 

Dachshund wearing a surgical cap and having an anesthesia mask put on

Why Should You Avoid Anesthesia-Free Dog Dental Cleanings?

They Aren’t Done By Veterinary Professionals

First off, anesthesia-free dental cleanings are not performed by veterinary professionals. While it may seem like a dental cleaning is simple, there are many things a veterinary professional is looking for that can, and likely will, be missed by someone without equivalent training. Their time, training and expertise (which cost them a boatload to get) is what you are paying for, and that is a HUGE value-add! You want an experienced, licensed professional caring for your dog. 

They Don’t Clean As Well

Anesthesia-free dental cleaning also does not allow for comparable results for your dog. Their teeth just cannot be cleaned as well when they’re awake. Anesthesia free dental cleaning requires the compliance of your dog. If you regularly brush their teeth (and you should!), they will likely put up with cleaning the cheek side of the teeth. But dogs have a gag reflex, just like we do. If someone is sticking their hands inside your dog’s mouth with an instrument to clean, the ability to move around and get an ideal clean will be greatly reduced

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Anesthesia-free cleaning is only above the gum line (what you can see). The problem is, most dogs have disease below the gum, like in the space between the tooth and the bone. This area cannot be cleaned with anesthesia-free dental cleanings. This leaves bacteria in the place that is causing your dog the most issues.

Related Article: 5 Ways Dental Disease Affects Your Dog’s Health

Vet checking the teeth of a husky

While the debris on the tooth above the gum line is unsightly and needs to be removed, the bacteria below the gum line are the ones that will result in your dog losing its teeth. For a cleaning to be effective, all debris, above and below the gum line, needs to be removed. That is just not possible to do safely and effectively on a dog who is awake. While the result may look good superficially, this is only delaying your dog getting the complete treatment that they need. Save up your money and proceed with a dental cleaning at your veterinarian when you have the funds. Cleaning your dog’s teeth is about way more than having a cute smile. 

They Aren’t As Safe

Safety for your dog is also a factor. Anesthesia is a risk, yes. But anesthesia is a controlled risk. When your dog is under anesthesia for a dental cleaning, they will have a tube in their throat to make sure air (and medicine to keep them asleep) is reaching the lungs, and that fluid and debris from the cleaning is not being inhaled. They will also likely have an IV catheter and multiple ways to monitor how they are tolerating the anesthesia, which allows for intervention if something occurs. Anesthesia-free dental cleaning does not provide airway control and protection.

Related Article: Dog Teeth Scaling: What Is It? Is It Safe?

They also do not provide any pain management. While local blocks (numbing) are used in dogs, it is not possible to numb the mouth safely in an awake dog. So with anesthesia-free dental cleaning, your dog feels everything. Ouch! If the anesthesia itself is what has you avoiding a dental cleaning for your dog, talk about the risk with your veterinarian. If they are recommending a dental cleaning, then they have a plan to manage that risk for your dog and get them safely through the procedure. Talk about your concerns so they can be addressed. 

Vet x-raying a dog

They Don’t Include Dental X-Rays

Finally, anesthesia-free dental cleaning does not include x-rays to ensure all disease is found, and does not include any actual treatment. All they do is clean above the gum line. When you look at how much you are not getting with anesthesia-free dental cleaning, I hope you have a better appreciation for the value your veterinary team is providing. There is a reason there is an adage that hard things are “like pulling teeth.” Quality dental care is difficult, and requires a trained professional.

One more thing: once you have your pup’s teeth cleaned, make sure to continue by doing daily brushing. If you got sticker shock from the price of the cleaning, it’s the best way to reduce the need for frequent dental cleanings in the future.

Colleen Ferriman, DVM, is a canine and feline health, wellness, and illness management advocate. She has a combined 10 years of experience in clinical medicine, education, and educational content development. Colleen graduated from Colorado State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has worked as a general practitioner, and has contributed to the development of veterinary educational tools. She is also a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and American Academy of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

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Written by: Colleen Ferriman, DVM

July 12, 2022

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