Is Anesthesia-Free Teeth Cleaning Good for Your Dog?

Updated on July 18, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Does your dog need a non-anesthesia dental cleaning?
Does your dog need a non-anesthesia dental cleaning? | Source

Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleaning: Good or Bad?

Considering anesthesia-free dental cleaning for your dog? If so, chances are that you just came home from seeing your vet, and after he took a peek at your dog's teeth, he suggested a dental cleaning. You are probably wondering if there are any alternatives to consider. Whether you got sticker shock from the estimate your vet gave you or you don't feel like putting your dog under anesthesia, you may be on the lookout for alternative dental cleaning options.

Making an Informed Decision

One popular option seen a lot lately is anesthesia-free dental cleanings. This may sound like a cost-effective solution, and from reading the reviews and information provided on websites a marvelous one, too, but there are always two sides to the story. This article will reveal what vets have to say about these cleanings and what can be done to ensure your dog's safety.

Video: Is Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleaning on Dogs Legal?

What Is Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleaning?

First and foremost, what are anesthesia-free dental cleanings and how do they work? As the name implies, these are dental cleanings that do not use anesthesia. The idea seems promising: Your dog gets his teeth cleaned at a fraction of the cost, and you have no need to worry about your dog going under. Your dog then goes home with beautiful white teeth, and you feel much better now that you have finally taken care of the problem.

Is It Too Good to Be True?

Many people are intrigued by the idea and lured by the before and after pictures provided by those who offer these services. In one picture, you see yellow-brown teeth full of tartar, and in the next, you see pearly whites attained just minutes after going into a facility that provides such services. It truly seems magical.

What You Are Not Told

As promising and alluring as anesthesia-free dental cleaning may appear, there are some things that you may not have been told about that you really need to be aware of before using these services. Knowledge is power when it comes to dealing with your dog's precious teeth and making important health decisions. This article is meant to be an eye-opener for what anesthesia-free dental cleanings for dogs actually entails.

Anyone providing dental services other than a licensed veterinarian, or a supervised and trained veterinary technician, is practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is subject to criminal charges.

— American Veterinary Dental College
Hygienists should wear gloves during the procedure, but this demonstrates appropriate intubation during a dental cleaning.
Hygienists should wear gloves during the procedure, but this demonstrates appropriate intubation during a dental cleaning. | Source

Why Veterinary Professionals Oppose These Procedures

We refer to dental cleanings performed when the dog is wide awake as anesthesia-free dental cleanings, but the American Veterinary Dental College refers to them as "non-professional dental cleanings." Why?

When conducted independently by non-veterinarians and outside of a veterinary hospital, these services are unprofessional. Veterinary medicine is conducted by licensed veterinarians who legally perform surgery, prescribe medicine, diagnose, and offer dentistry services. According to the American Veterinary Dental College:

"Anyone providing dental services other than a licensed veterinarian, or a supervised and trained veterinary technician, is practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is subject to criminal charges."

However, this practice becomes acceptable if a dental cleaning is done by a veterinary technician or veterinary assistant when working under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is so deeply convinced that non-professional dental cleanings pose no benefit to pets, that it has made it mandatory that all its affiliated hospitals must perform dental procedures with anesthesia or else they risk losing their certification.

Many people are not surprised that veterinarians and veterinary associations would frown upon these cleanings because they take away business from them, but before making such assumptions, it's important to see why so-called non-professional dental cleanings may cause more harm than good.

A thorough dental service should include dental radiographs, according to the American Animal Hospital Association.
A thorough dental service should include dental radiographs, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. | Source

6 Reasons Not to Do Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleanings

1. There Is a High Risk of Aspiration Pneumonia

Anesthesia and required intubation of the airway actually protects your dog from inhaling dangerous aerosolized calculus, blood, plaque, and oral bacteria. Dogs that are not intubated and anesthetized are actively breathing in bacteria, which can lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Before and after a dental cleaning and polishing, vets will perform an antiseptic flush to rid the mouth of bacteria, according to Parkway Animal Hospital, and the insertion of an endotracheal tube during anesthesia prevents the accidental aspiration of debris. Companies performing dental cleanings with no anesthesia only use tissues to wipe off debris as it accumulates. Their rationale is that since the dog is awake, his gag reflex will prevent accidental aspiration, which is false.

2. It's Hard to Reach Certain Areas

Generally, the outer sides of the dog's teeth are the ones most heavily encrusted with tartar, and thankfully, these are also the easiest to reach. These areas are generally worse because saliva is less likely to flow here and the tongue doesn't come in contact with these sides of the teeth. However, surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue are also important to clean and these areas are challenging, if not almost impossible to clean on a fully conscious dog.

Also, in order to perform sufficient under-the-gum cleaning, you will need a dog that stays still, even if things get uncomfortable or painful. Under-the-gum cleaning is the most important part of dental care since periodontal disease thrives underneath the gums. In humans, cleaning under the gums is easily accomplished because we know what is going on and we are aware of the benefits. Despite this, consider that many humans find the procedure hard to tolerate and even painful!

3. Ideal Dental Tools Cannot Be Used

When a dog is put under anesthesia, the noisy ultrasonic scaler and the polisher can be used to effectively clean and polish teeth. An awake dog will be very reluctant to allow noisy, scary tools in his mouth. Hand-held scalers must be used on awake patients, but in order to work, they must have a sharp working edge. Any movement from a non-collaborative canine can potentially cause injury. Polishing the teeth after tartar is removed is important as the smoother surfaces will help prevent the adherence of more plaque and tartar.

4. A Thorough Evaluation Cannot Be Done

When a dog goes under anesthesia, his teeth can be evaluated carefully with a probe to measure pockets in the gum line and necessary x-rays can be taken to evaluate what cannot be seen by the naked eye (under the gum line). If anything is discovered during this time, it can be taken care of since the dog is anesthetized. Veterinarian and dental specialist, Brett Beckman, claims "Without radiographs, the cleaning is cosmetic only."

5. Preventive Care Isn't Initiated

In some cases, dogs may need antibiotics before having a dental cleaning. This is more often seen when dogs have advanced dental disease with bleeding gums and a high number of bacteria in the mouth, or in dogs with underlying health conditions that predispose them to a high risk of complications from dental procedures.

According to the American Veterinary Dental College, dogs considered high risk are those who are immune-compromised, have underlying cardiac, hepatic, and renal disease, and dogs with severe oral infections. During a dental cleaning, bacteria risks entering the bloodstream when the gums bleed, and once there, it can affect the dog's heart valves, kidneys, and liver, and cause serious infections.

6. Owners Get a False Sense of Security

One of the worst aspects of anesthesia-free dental cleanings is that it gives dog owners a false sense of security. They bring a dog with yellow-brown teeth to the office and pick up a dog with white teeth. Yet, they fail to understand that yes, the teeth look good, but they're only looking at the tip of the iceberg as 60% of the remaining teeth are located under the gum line in those hard-to-reach areas.

Within the pockets underneath the gum lines, debris will still accumulate, the bad breath will soon make a come-back, and the pet will suffer, explains Jan Bellows, a veterinarian and specialist in veterinary dentistry. This is a disservice to patients and to their owners.

Video: Why Avoid Pet Dentistry Without Anesthesia

Are Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleanings Truly Bad for Dogs?

Now that you have seen different opinions on the topic, you may think anesthesia-free dental cleanings are very bad, but there are also some cases where they may provide some benefit. As with most controversial issues, there is always two sides to the same story.

One good thing about anesthesia-free cleanings is that more and more veterinarians are offering them in their clinics. This means that even if the dental cleaning is done by a veterinary technician or veterinary assistant, they're working under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian who may monitor and intervene as necessary.

Anesthesia-Free Services Offered by Veterinary Professionals

Pet Dental Services is a popular option that is growing steadily. Their services are not intended to substitute for the deep cleaning, extractions, and radiographs done under anesthesia, but they can be helpful as a maintenance program after the dog undergoes a traditional cleaning under anesthesia. Their website also claims that services may be rendered in some cases for high-risk anesthesia cases such as old dogs or dogs with chronic kidney, liver, or heart disease. These cleanings, of course, are not appropriate for dogs suffering from severe gingivitis, abscesses, caries, or loose and fractured teeth.

There was also a study conducted on the efficacy of anesthesia-free dental cleanings. The study refers to such cleanings as "Professional Outpatient Preventive Dentistry" (POPD). In this study, the technician was able to perform scaling both over and under the gums thoroughly and safely on 12 dogs and 12 cats. The study details that though such cleanings are not intended to be a substitute for anesthetic dentistry, they may be a valuable supplemental treatment.

Video: Non-Anesthetic Dental Procedure Done in a Vet's Office

An Informed Decision Is the Best Decision

As seen, there are several risks associated with anesthesia-free dental cleanings. One of the biggest is undetected periodontal disease after years of anesthesia-free pet dentals. The American Veterinary Dental College demonstrates in this picture a perfect example of a dog with seemingly spotless teeth but with such severe bone loss from periodontal disease, that upon examination, the probe goes through the entire jaw!

So as seen, there are risks to be aware of, and dog owners should absolutely avoid dental cleanings performed out of the veterinary office by non-professionals. Research is a must for the safety of our pets.

Would You Have Your Dog Undergo an Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleaning?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 Adrienne Janet Farricelli


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    • profile image


      17 months ago

      PLEASE, PLEASE DO NO do anesthesia free cleaning. I had my dogs teeth done at a local pet shop when she was about 2-3. Just yesterday my dog had 15!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! teeth taken out from periodontal disease at the age of 8. (5/15/18) She had 16 teeth taken out in two previous under-anesthesia teeth cleanings with vets since 2016. I have brushed her teeth all her life, given her good food, and had 3 teeth cleanings now with vets. There is no explanation from them BUT I think it is from having this non-anesthesia, teeth scraping which CAUSED my baby-dog to now only have 10 teeth let at the young age of 8. DO NOT DO THIS. RUN. SAVE YOUR DOG!

      If you get full work-ups of blood work for your dog, before a teeth cleaning with your vet, they should be just fine. It is the safer and more healthy way to go. ~devastated Chris, parent of a cocker.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      21 months ago

      Eddie, good point but would you like to see a dog being forced to keep his mouth open for a long time while awake and risk getting injured with sharp instruments in his mouth? The vet is also at great risk from getting bitten, especially when trying to reach the back teeth which are far back inside the dog's mouth.

    • profile image


      21 months ago

      I always ask the proponents of using anesthesia for tooth cleaning if they would like to see their young human child put under for a tooth cleaning

      Usually they mutter, ' of course not - anesthesia has serious risks'. But for an animal they say 'no problem'. Uh hunh...

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I like the photo and you always inform us best about our good friends.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      4 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Great informative hub. I use the anesthetic free dental cleaning. It seems to help maintain Trixies teeth. My dalmatian loved to go to the vet and get his teeth cleaned. He also loved to get his teeth brushed. He lived to be over 15 years old. Stella


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