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Pitfalls of Non-Anesthetic Dentals

Updated: Jun 8, 2022


Jennifer Hertzoff, CVT

Veterinary Dentistry Training i ___________________________________________________

The Truth About Non Anesthetic Teeth Cleanings

Dental cleanings without anesthesia are so tempting for the pet owner but, so wrong for the pet!

Let’s face the facts, pet owners have a fear of putting their loved ones under anesthesia. For the misinformed animal owner, having the animal’s teeth cleaned without anesthesia sounds like a great option. There’s no risk associated with anesthesia and it’s a whole lot cheaper than having their veterinarian perform the procedure. It seems ideal, but is it?

In this article, I will explain why a non anesthetic dental scaling (NADS) is not only a waste of money but, is actually harmful for the animal. Here are a few key reasons:

Periodontal Disease:

The most important reason NADS is not recommended is because of its inability to treat periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the most common clini- cal condition among dogs and cats. Studies show that more than 80% of dogs and cats have periodontal disease by the age of 3 years. Treatment for periodontal disease entails removing the tartar below the gum line and cannot be done efficiently and safely while the animal is awake. Tartar that deposits below the gum line will cause infection of the gingival tissue, destroy alveolar bone and most of all, it will allow harmful bacteria to en- ter the bloodstream. Untreated periodontal disease will adversely affects the animal’s heart, liver, kidneys and lungs. Scaling of the teeth without anesthesia can only clean the portion of the tooth that is visible. The tartar on the crowns of the teeth is unsightly, but is not harming the overall health of the animal. The tartar below the gum line is the cul- prit. Only a professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia can prevent and treat periodontal disease.


During an anesthesia free dental cleaning, the person performing this procedure “scrapes” the outside of the teeth with a sharp tool. If the animal moves, even the slight- est amount, the gum tissue can get lacerated. It is very difficult to have the pet stay completely still. The animal will also move its tongue around, which can get lacerated by the sharp dental instrument. Teeth that have fractures, mobility or periodontal disease will also be very painful when touched. When a pet is under anesthesia, the professional teeth cleaning and extractions can be done without the animal feeling any pain. Nerve blocks and injectable pain medication can be given while the pet is anesthetized to pre- vent any discomfort after the procedure as well.

Endotracheal Tube:

During a professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia, an endotra- cheal tube is placed, which will protect the airway from any dislodged tartar. This cannot be done without anesthesia. Tartar that is removed during a NADS usually ends up either being swallowed or inhaled. This can cause a respiratory infection and airway discomfort after the procedure.

Dental X-Rays:

Dental radiographs are a crucial part of a complete periodontal therapy. 20%-30% of pathology (infection) is not visible from the surface of the teeth. The digital sensor that is used for taking radiographs is approximately $8,000 and will not withstand getting bitten, which makes it impossible to take intra-oral dental x-rays while the pet is awake. Therefore, the dental procedure without anesthesia cannot provide a thorough oral examination and evaluation.

False Sense of Security:

During a NADS procedure, the unknowing pet owner thinks the teeth are clean because they “look” that way. Little do they know that the invisible killer below the gum line. The anesthesia free dental cleaning is more like a cosmetic proce- dure than a therapeutic one. I have seen countless pet owners heartbroken when they learned that their animal was suffering in silence for years. Just because you can’t see the infection, doesn’t mean it’s not there. “The cost of an anesthesia free dental procedure is cheaper in the short run. However, pet owners are risking the need for much higher costs to care for severe dental problems that have gone unidentified for a number of years.”* (American Veterinary Dental College)

I hope this article helped shed light on the pitfalls of NADS. I have worked in a busy dental spe- cialty clinic since 2004. I have seen many animals come to our office after having several years of non anesthetic dental cleanings. Most of the time the crowns looked good, but they always had numerous abscessed teeth. Owners were guilt ridden because they thought they were do- ing what was best for their pets. They were unfortunately misinformed.

Dental issues affect the overall health of our pets. Having their teeth professionally cleaned un- der anesthesia can help them stay healthy, happy and pain free.

For further information on about anesthesia free pet dental cleanings, check out the position statement of the AVDC ( American Veterinary Dental College) Anesthesia Free Pet Dental Cleanings - Pet Health - AVDC

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