Dog Teeth Cleaning Without Anesthesia

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
Keeping your dog’s teeth clean is an important part of his wellbeing. If you’re taking your dog to a vet for a teeth cleaning, there are options that don’t include anesthesia.

Brushing your teeth is probably one of the first things you do in the morning and one of the last things you do at night. Oral hygiene is extremely important and is probably something you were brought up doing on a daily basis. But what about your dog? Keeping your dog’s teeth clean is a little trickier than caring for your own. After all, your dog can’t brush his own teeth and he’s unlikely to sit still long enough for you to do it for him every day.

Whether you brush your dog’s teeth or not, it is recommended that you have them cleaned about once per year by a professional. Many veterinarians recommend anesthesia for dog teeth cleaning, but there are other options. Keep reading to learn more.

Related: Top 15 Toys for Clean Dog Teeth

What is Involved in Dog Teeth Cleaning?

You’ve undoubtedly been to the dentist before to have your teeth professionally cleaned, so you have some idea what to expect. The process is similar for dogs, but there are some key differences. Most veterinarians choose to anesthetize dogs for the procedure because they are unlikely to sit still long enough – it is also done to prevent pain and to keep the dog’s airway open.

Before starting the cleaning, your veterinarian (or an assistant) will examine your dog and review his medical history. He’ll take your dog’s weight, body temperature, and check his teeth, heart, and lungs. After the dog has been anesthetized, the technician will start by removing large chunks of tartar from the teeth and will then check for infection, cavities, and other signs of disease. If no abnormal findings are reported, the next step is removing plaque under the gumline. From there, the teeth are polished and treated with fluoride to protect them until the next cleaning.

Related: Why Are Small Breed Dogs Susceptible to Tooth Loss?

Can It Be Done without Anesthesia?

Veterinarians who use anesthesia during teeth cleanings are extremely careful. In addition to taking your dog’s weight, they will review your dog’s chart and complete an exam to determine whether any adjustments need to be made to the dosage. During the procedure, your dog’s vitals will be closely monitored, and he will be kept for observation for a short period after just to be safe.

Though standard procedure is to anesthetize pets before a dental cleaning, some pet stores and groomers are starting to offer it without anesthesia. Some dogs are more sensitive to anesthesia, making the risk higher, but most veterinarians agree that anesthesia-free dental cleanings are dangerous. Because there is no anesthesia being used, your dog will be physically restrained which can be a scary and unsafe experience.

Even with being restrained, the cleaning is likely to be less effective. Take a moment to reflect on your own experiences at the dentist. Have you ever had a moment where your dentist’s tools touched just the right spot to make you job, flinch, or pull away? It’s not an uncommon experience. The difference is that your dentist can talk through the pros and cons with you, encouraging you to make the conscious effort to sit still through the process. If only we could also reason with our dogs!

Your dog’s teeth might end up whiter, but they won’t be healthier.

Less Effective Cleaning

During an anesthesia-free dental cleaning, the visible plaque on the surface of your dog’s teeth will be removed by using tools to scrape it away. This alone is an unpleasant experience for most dogs. Unfortunately, the cleaning process has to end there meaning that there is no cleaning done along or under the gumline where the plaque and bacteria can accumulate in pockets, leading to unwanted infections or conditions like gingivitis.

Increased Stress and Anxiety

In addition to compromising the quality of your dog’s dental cleaning, an anesthesia-free procedure could have long-lasting effects on your dog in terms of their stress and anxiety. Many dogs dislike having someone touch their mouths to begin with. Now, they are not only dealing with their discomfort in this being forced on them, but they are also being poked and prodded throughout an unpleasant procedure. The combination of the stress, anxiety, pain, and discomfort is often enough to turn your dog off having a dental examination at all in the future.

The next time that you are at your veterinarian’s office, and they are attempting to do a quick check of your dog’s teeth and gums, this could trigger a fear response. They have a negative association with a professional touching their mouth thanks to their experience, which can turn even the nicest and well-mannered pet into an uncooperative patient.

Dental X-Rays

Another important part of the dental care process that is lost due to the choice to skip anesthesia is the ability to obtain a full month of dental x-rays, painting a clearer picture of what is going on in the jaw and below the gumline. This is necessary to discover and address root abscesses, impacted teeth, damage to the jawbone, and some forms of tooth decay.

With your veterinarian only able to offer a diagnosis based on what’s available, you could be missing the development of a serious oral health condition or disease. Ultimately, by choosing to opt out of anesthesia, you could be causing your pet more pain. They can’t tell us if their teeth are bugging them, so it’s our responsibility to find out if there is anything going on.

Is There Ever a Reason for Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleaning?

In saying all of this, we are not saying that there is never a reason that anesthesia-free cleaning may be the best option. If your dog has previously experienced a negative reaction to anesthesia, it may be determined that it’s not safe to use it regardless of what the medical exams reveal. In these situations, an anesthesia-free dental cleaning is better than not having any cleaning completed.

However, this is the exception to the rule. In most situations, a standard dental cleaning is necessary to provide the full care necessary to make your dog’s dental health a priority.

A thorough dental cleaning for dogs can be a complex procedure, especially if your dog has advanced periodontal disease or damaged teeth. If your dog’s teeth are still in fairly good shape, do him and yourself a favor and start brushing your dog’s teeth regularly to keep them healthy.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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