Anesthesia-Free pet dental cleanings (also called non-professional dental scaling, or NPDS) refers to the practice of scaling the surface of the teeth in a fully awake pet. Some pet owners may find this practice appealing if they are afraid of putting their pet under anesthesia, or if they may have trouble affording a professional cleaning.
Although anesthesia-free dental cleanings may sound like a good alternative, pet owners may not truly be aware of what this type of cleaning involves. The term “cleaning” can be misleading in this case since only the visible surfaces of the teeth are cleaned. There is no evaluation of what is going on below the gumline or in the rest of the oral cavity. Most concerning oral disease happens below the visible surfaces of the teeth, so it is far more important that these non-visible areas are cleaned. Tartar build-up below the gumline can lead to gingivitis, bad breath, and cause extensive damage to tooth roots and surrounding bone structure.
Bacteria from these hidden areas can enter the bloodstream and affect other organs such as the heart. Anesthesia-free dentals cannot allow for cleaning below the gumline since the tools used to clean teeth are sharp and would cause trauma and pain to your pet.
Not only are you getting a false sense of security from an anesthesia-free dental, but you may be causing your pet unnecessary emotional fear and trauma. Most pets have some degree of fear and anxiety when they visit the vet clinic. They are surrounded by strangers, strange smells, and possibly memories of previous unpleasant experiences. Imagine how much that fear and stress is amplified when your pet is manually restrained so that he or she can’t move and is forced to keep it’s mouth open for an unnaturally long period of time. They have no idea what or why this is happening to them. Some pets that are too large, strong, or struggle too much are wrapped like a burrito in large towels or drapes – like being locked in a straight jacket.
We know from our own experiences at the dentist that cleanings can be quite uncomfortable and even painful at times. Your pet has no way of communicating to their handlers whether he or she is experiencing pain or discomfort. This kind of negative experience could lead to behavioural problems from the emotional trauma and make it very difficult for your pet to ever feel safe or comfortable at the vet clinic again. The reality of anesthesia-free dental cleanings is that they may do more harm than good. Your pet’s teeth may look clean but the important areas beneath the gumline will be excluded.
You can imagine this practice as being similar to going to your own dentist and not having your teeth cleaned below the gumline, or not having your teeth checked for pockets or bone loss, or not using x-rays to check for cavities and infection. A thorough oral exam and dental cleaning can only truly be accomplished while your pet is under anesthesia. Teeth that are rotten, broken, or diseased can never be removed from an awake pet as this would be far too painful.
The risks of anesthesia are significantly less than the risks of inadequate cleaning, injury, and emotional trauma associated with NPDS. Our Doctors follow the most up to date and stringent anesthetic standards, with diligent, redundant, and constant monitoring of vital signs while under anesthesia. Senior pets are commonly safely anesthetized under these current standards. Your pet will not experience any emotional trauma or be at risk for any injuries while under sedation. Any bad teeth that need to removed can be pulled out painlessly and your pet will go home with a completely healthy mouth.
The risks of anesthesia have been reduced to very low levels in recent years, however, we cannot say there are no risks. Yet, given the risks and benefits of either procedure, pet parents can be assured that a professional dental cleaning with anesthesia, and full mouth radiographs will be the only one leaving your pet with a healthy mouth, and a true assessment of all the problems that may be present