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How Effective is Anesthesia-Free Dental Work?

I was wondering if anaesthesia-free teeth cleaning is as effective as traditional cleanings? I brush my 13-year-old dog's teeth daily in addition to six-month cleanings...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Oct 13th 2008


I was wondering if anaesthesia-free teeth cleaning
is as effective as traditional cleanings? I brush
my 13-year-old dog’s teeth daily in addition to
six-month cleanings (anaesthesia-free) and it all
seems good. I just wanted to make sure there
wasn’t someting I was missing.
Thanks!

Hedy
Los Angeles, CA

Anesthesia-free dental work is sometimes touted as a substitute for procedures performed under anesthesia by a veterinarian’s staff. Many people reason that they do not need anesthesia to have their teeth cleaned. Why should it be different for pets?

Also, clients often express surprise when I recommend anesthetic dental work for their pets. I cannot count the number of times people have said, “But Fluffy just had his teeth cleaned two years ago!”

What you must remember is that pets don’t brush their teeth. Remember as well that pets age five to seven human years for each year that passes.

If you went 10 – 14 years without brushing your teeth and then visited the dentist, I promise that he or she would want to put you under anesthesia for some major work. That is what vets do when we perform dental work on pets every couple of years.

Veterinarians often refer to such procedures dental cleaning or teeth cleaning. These terms sell the procedures short. What we do, in fact, is ultrasonically remove dental calculus and infection above and below the gum line. We assess and treat dental pockets, odontoclastic resorpitve lesions (severely painful enamel defects in cats), and periodontitis (infection of the ligaments and structures surrounding the teeth). We evaluate fractured (chipped) teeth, and work to correct gingivitis (gum infection). We often take dental X-rays. We sometimes extract hopelessly compromised teeth. We screen for oral cancer. And, last of all, we clean the teeth.

Anesthesia-free teeth cleaning involves removal of calculus from the teeth themselves. It is teeth cleaning, and nothing more.

For most animals, anesthesia-free dental work is no substitute for the real thing. However, Hedy, your pet may be an exception. If you brush your pet’s teeth daily and regularly have dental calculus removed from the teeth before it can spread under the gums, you may protect your pet from serious dental issues.

Nonetheless, I urge you to check the credentials of the person working on your dog’s teeth. I have met several people who perform the procedure. Some of them knew what they were doing. Others displayed an appalling lack of knowledge.

No matter what, I recommend that you have your vet perform regular thorough oral exams. And keep brushing your dog’s teeth!